Posts in Insight

Your top marketing priority for 2020: Retool and Refine the Message

January 16th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, change, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, Insight, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Your top marketing priority for 2020: Retool and Refine the Message”

If the message doesn’t connect, nothing works

The most important tool impacting the success of food and beverage marketing investments is the right message. If the message lacks relevance and resonance, it won’t connect – and efforts made to engage consumers fall flat no matter which channels of outreach are used.

How so? There’s an interesting example in the difference between music and noise.

  • When I was in high school and college, I was a musician and my side hustle was playing in a band. I was the lead singer and rhythm guitar player. I. Loved. Music. At the time it was my creative outlet, and in every venue we played, there was always a set where I got on stage alone with an acoustic guitar and did some solo numbers. In those moments it was me and the audience and I was singing a story. I had something to say. I wanted them to feel my emotions and relate to the lyrics. Music is an incredible medium for that purpose. It hits the head and the heart at the same moment. It can be inspiring and all encompassing. People are engaged and take the journey with you.

Technically, there’s not a ton of difference between noise and music, both are sound wave patterns. One engages and the other repels. Self-promotional marketing messaging can be static that people choose to avoid. Relevant story telling that connects to what you want in life is captivating.

“If you talked to people the way advertising talks to people, they’d punch you in the face.”   Hugh Macleod

The goal of great marketing is first to engage and then secure belief. That happens when the message is relevant and the storytelling is respectful of what the audience desires. Only then will they really listen.

Where brand messaging goes off the rails

Companies spend countless hours and resources making a terrific product. So, it’s understandable to think the marketing should be a comprehensive showcase of the technical or formulation achievements and product features. The messaging often employs language that walks and talks like fact-based selling because, after all, presumably that’s what is going on: working to convince, persuade and close the sale.

“We believe the consumer will be enamored and enthralled with our better mousetrap and will cling to every word about how we’re 25% better than brand X alongside our painstaking attention to higher quality ingredients. Just examine the enticing list of our superior features and benefits. Afterall everyone will be persuaded by the evidence, given people are logical decision makers who carefully weigh the facts before buying.” Ahem.

Well no. People are emotional creatures who move with their hearts first. How we feel in the presence of a brand is far more important than the specs of protein percentages. But more importantly, the disconnect happens earlier when the story starts with the brand as hero and not the consumer. We’ve already lost relevance at the front door of engagement. We characterize this as a form of brand narcissism.

Best practices in effective messaging

Creating a more consumer-centric brand narrative is harder to do than it looks. Cleverness isn’t the leverage point either. Clarity and connection are paramount. We must be careful not to make people work too hard to understand. Humans resist taxing the brain and tune-out quickly if the message doesn’t make immediate sense because it is too complex or indirect.

The right path follows storytelling principles that show up regularly in great music and movies.

Here are storytelling elements Emergent considers along the path.

  1. Every great story has a hero. Here, it is the consumer and their wants, needs and concerns.
  2. The hero always has a problem to overcome. What is the brand working to solve for them?
  3. A good story always has a bit of mystery – a secret, a key – something which brings context previously unknown. For food and beverage brands, we must gain insight on the most important lifestyle consideration (and its related dietary attribute) the consumer is seeking from the product – the “why” of their repeat purchases.
  4. Every strong story has a Yoda to its Luke Skywalker, helping the consumer achieve their goals, overcome adversity and create a plan. The brand operates as the consumer’s guide and coach.
  5. What can the brand further do to support and enable our hero’s lifestyle aspirations?
  6. We also help people understand what success looks like and how the brand supports their lifestyle goals.
  7. Interwoven throughout the story is the brand’s higher purpose which centers on a mission that consumers can “join” as an aligned value they embrace. The brand’s higher purpose goes beyond the product itself. This is frequently missing from the whole narrative and yet it is a key story point in driving connection.

When we make consumers the center of the story and consider their journey and desire to be part of something that’s greater than themselves, we imbue the brand with relevance and deeper meaning.

An example:

  • Beyond Meat understood that meat lovers love meat taste and its familiar texture. They carefully designed the eating experience and message to reinforce the ‘no taste sacrifice’ of a re-imagined plant-based burger.
  • The brand’s higher purpose was embedded in the environmental advantages of resources NOT consumed in plant-based meat production. They did not attempt to present the product as a vegan ‘health food’ in the traditional syntax. Nutritionals would not have supported it anyway. The words plant-based already come embedded with a healthy halo.
  • The sizzle, the cooking, the culinary adventure of fully dressed burger images all played to a latent backyard barbecue indulgence trope that have made hamburgers the most popular sandwich on earth. Boom.

The connection is interweaving burger savory indulgence with the consumer’s desire to eat healthier and bring more plant-based foods into their diet. The food science part of it is frankly less interesting and does not reside at the heart of why people decide to buy.

Apple Computer, upon Steve Jobs return from exile, embarked on a marketing campaign for the ages that focused entirely on the consumer’s journey and their desire for creativity and achievement – instead of tech specsmanship. They didn’t dwell on the machines or software but rather on the opportunity to change the world around us for the better. To Think Different. That’s higher purpose.

When the message is right, outcomes are assured

The goal is creating marketing that people actually want rather than choose to avoid. At the heart of effectiveness is messaging that resonates because it’s about the consumer’s journey and passions.

When we have a richer understanding of our consumers and their lives, it feeds proper input into the messaging model. Understanding the main lifestyle attribute they seek from the product, allows us to focus and simplify. Anchoring to a clear message is respectful of the very limited amount of time we have to communicate successfully. At the store shelf, this is mere seconds.

Emergent’s proprietary approach to message development is founded on consumer insight and making them the hero with the brand performing as expert guide. This formula is fundamental to creating marketing that works because the audience is listening.

The outcome eliminates misfires, disconnects and promotes the start of a deeper consumer relationship based on serving mutual interests. The brand’s goal is to make a difference in the consumer’s life. When that happens, the rewards are reaped in business growth.

Emergent client engagements begin with an audit of current messaging and assessments against the backdrop of category competition. This is done alongside efforts to mine consumer insight for understanding of key lifestyle aspirations and dietary attributes heavy users want to solve (key to repurchase velocity) with the product.

The plan for success

We use a proprietary mapping tool for this purpose, to bring ideas forward that overcome the key barriers to engagement.

The right messaging then informs communications tools that connect and achieve memorability, relevance, which in turn fuels growth and acquisition of new brand fans.

May we help you create a new path to marketing message success in 2020?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Truth to the Bank

January 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Taking Truth to the Bank”

Transforming business outcomes through transparency

How can we make marketing most effective?

Here’s a story about how an investment in transparency can make a big difference in consumer engagement and business outcomes.

Imagine a pet parent in a pet store looking for the right food to buy for their beloved dog or cat. Unlike human food where you can see if the steak is fresh and well-marbled or squeeze the tomato to determine if it’s ripe, pet food presents a bag of curious brown nuggets where the label becomes the lesson. Yet how do people truly know what’s inside the bag after trying to decipher the label jargon? Facts are you don’t. It’s a leap of faith.

Simply stated, consumers have questions burning inside of them. If we don’t answer them a disconnect occurs.

Why? The world we now live in is a skeptical place. People require trust and belief about the brands they care about but find it hard to secure when confronted almost daily in the media with half-truths, omissions, deceit and integrity challenges.

In this uncertain environment marketers want their messages to be seen, heard and acted upon. However, consumers routinely tune out and ignore many of those investments, in part because the messaging fails to connect in a meaningful and credible way. A dilemma we’re about to solve through applying deeper meaning…

Nowhere can we see this credibility challenge in greater relief than the pet food industry, a super high involvement category for pet parents, where the product form provides no visual cue about what’s inside or proof of ingredient quality. Yes, the label lists ingredient categories, but nothing to truly verify if the meat, for example, was fresh or raw and where it came from rather than the more common powdered (lower grade) version.

You already know that pets are revered, doted over family members. The most direct way to express the love we have for our furry companions is to provide the very best nutrition we can afford, given food is connected to pet health, wellness and happiness. People genuinely care about pet food, so how can we reward this significant level of interest and concern about diet quality? Please note, this concern is just as valid in human food categories.

Ironically, the vast majority of marketing communication in the pet food business suffers with sameness. From brand to brand, claims are made about percentages of high protein and meat use because dogs and cats are carnivores and their ‘ancestral diet’ leans heavily on prodigious amounts of these ingredients. It remains nonetheless an assertion, requiring trust that the brown nugget is made from the claimed fresh chicken. Incidentally sameness is a blur and lacks distinctiveness fueled with memorability, essential for marketing effectiveness.

Being overtly clever these days doesn’t really help because consumers work to avoid anything that walks or talks like shameless self-promotion.

Champion Petfoods and the industry’s first move to authentic transparency

Champion, in fact, makes some of the highest quality pet food in the business in their ORIJEN and ACANA brands. Yet this remains a claim, requiring said leap of faith for acceptance.

Trust is essential these days to business growth. But periodic recalls and product liability litigation du jour in the pet food business can dilute confidence. For the most part, pet owners feed their pets and “hope” all is well because the bowl is emptied, and Fido wags his tail.

Emergent and Champion wanted to leap over the category-wide skepticism and find a better path to consumer connection based on the pet parents’ keen interests. Champion has long-standing partnerships with regional farms, ranches and fisheries to supply their two kitchens in Alberta, Canada and Auburn, Kentucky. This essential truth could be brought to life and so we created the Champion Transparency Council with a team of outside third parties, including Veterinary physicians and real-world pet parents.

It was an industry first and required the company to be transparent in every way about ingredient sourcing and all aspects of product creation. The Council members were given complete access to the kitchen from loading dock to packaging line and also witnessed every aspect of how food is made. Additionally, they visited the farms, ranches and fish suppliers to see where the ingredients like fresh Bison and Catfish were sourced.

They were hands on with the fish later to appear in a bag of pet food.

Emergent helped build a multi-channel communications platform around The Council members’ experiences and independent reports. The Council participated in media interviews, ads were developed, reports were distributed through social media channels, and web pages established as a home base for their content. The Council members’ reports were personal, emotive and filled with examples of their own life experiences with their pets as well as what they saw, learned and experienced in Champion’s kitchens and supplier activities.

This program by the way, was Champion’s first engagement with an outside agency partner and so the entire program was built on a modest budget where every dollar spent needed to work like 10.

The bottom line – The Transparency Council effort made heroes of partner farmers and told stories through the authentic, credible voices of pet parents and Vets. As a pet business first, Champion’s visibility in the industry media went from near zero to a standout share of voice leader.

Most importantly, the Transparency Council verified and validated what Champion claims about their food and provided the evidence to earn trust and belief about pet diet quality among pet parents, distributors and key stakeholders. This coincided with the company’s successful move into Petco and helped the business retain the confidence of its large community of independent pet retailers.

Transparency proved the point. It helps people get to trust because the character of the communication is honest and trustworthy.

The secret sauce of this effort is the nuance and attention to detail required: from how the Council is constructed and managed to how the communication was presented, the messaging that was emphasized and timing of its distribution. Expertise as you can imagine is required.

Transparency can be a strategic lever to enhanced marketing outcomes

These days people want to know more about the foods and beverages they ingest. They care about the quality of ingredients used and want to know the backstory on where ingredients came from and the standards employed to ensure freshness, quality and safety.

The number one concern for consumers is health and wellness. This is served through the quality of the food and beverage they buy. This helps us understand why the food and beverage industry is being turned upside down in the quest for products with cleaner, simpler ingredients and responsible sourcing.

More often than not, opportunities are missed by many brands because the product creation story isn’t fully realized. Marketers want people to believe what’s claimed.

Trust must be earned and transparency is a trust engine. When correctly deployed it works to humanize the brand voice and build a deeper and more valued connection.

What’s your dormant transparency story?

How can you distinguish your brand as the one deserving of trust among your competitive set?

Emergent can help you discover how to leverage these insights for improved communications effectiveness and consumer engagement.

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.

Enjoy Life prospers

Can emerging food brands prosper inside the big mother ship?

November 25th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, change, CMO, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy Living, Insight 0 comments on “Can emerging food brands prosper inside the big mother ship?”

Enjoy Life proves the case for unicorn in the herd

Enjoy Life Foods enjoys the enviable position of being intentionally unique and differentiated by virtue of the market it serves. Have you noticed the skyrocketing increases in the number of people with various forms of food allergy? My oldest daughter is one and many families these days have someone in their circle with a digestive rejection problem.

Of note, some experts believe the rapid ascent of allergen free foods is due to compromised immune systems, in part to blame from the cultural and technological shifts that help assure children will be exposed less and less to bacterial and viral hazards. It is contact with these microscopic threats that puts the immune system activity into higher gear. Use it or lose it?

Enjoy Life offers 86 SKUs of products created and designed to give allergy sufferers a shot at snack and sweets bliss with unconventional (entirely) clean recipe solutions. They are crafted with a staggeringly high intolerance for anything in the product creation process that could introduce an allergen somewhere along the path. Such is their franchise and commitment to becoming a trusted solution for people with food allergies.

Enjoy Life is an acquired brand of Mondelez, the spinoff of the Kraft Foods break-up that resulted in today’s Kraft Heinz packaged foods behemoth alongside the snack and sweets oriented and equally hefty Mondelez International operation. In either case we’re talking about big food.

Joel Warady, who leads the Enjoy Life team and has been on board there since its early days, is a bit of an iconoclast in the belly of the Mondolez whale, but it works and works well. Perhaps Enjoy Life offers a model for success to the innovation-challenged legacy packaged foods industry looking to stem the tide of fractional annual growth or share losses. Of late, many legacy CPGs are seeking the cachet of high quality, mission-oriented food brands by investing in or acquiring the fledgling company’s rapidly scaling share and market presence. The food world has turned upside down ever since the barriers to entry evaporated for independent food start-ups.

“Acquiring companies like Mondolez have learned, and sometimes the hard way, that it’s best to let these emerging businesses continue under their current management teams and without a lot of interference,” said Warady. “The challenge is figuring out how and where to help, usually with R&D and distribution support or providing ingredient sourcing efficiencies and pipeline scale.”

Warady believes Enjoy Life has been a success story because key strategic decisions are largely left in their own hands. “We’ve had some embedded executives from Mondolez along the way, but for the most part we operate as we did before the acquisition only with more resources at our disposal,” he said.

Legacy food companies like Kraft and Mondolez have greater challenges on the product innovation front due to their size, and cultural habits that work to wring out risk. It’s a point of view that has caused them to routinely favor line extensions over disruptive, unproven and yet demonstrably higher quality food ideas that are popping up everywhere.

Now, the magic and heat index in food innovation is coming mainly from entrepreneurs with a vision for solving a neglected corner of the market like Enjoy Life. Other successful ideas offer a preparation or ingredient twist that inspires a new category such as Beyond Meat that imitate the texture, flavor and mouthfeel of genuine animal-based meat. These plant-based proteins are more widely targeted to those whose values supports the overall mission (whether clean eating, regional sourcing, minimized carbon footprint, etc.) – not just aimed narrowly at serving Vegan interests.

Enjoy Life was designed from day one to be a difference maker in the lives of people suffering from allergies. It helps when you solve a real problem that has existed for some time but neglected as a niche business and ignored by companies that at one time believed if the volume isn’t a billion dollars within 15 months of launch, it isn’t worth pursuing.

Ingredients for Success

Warady offers some guidance for founders and acquirers alike:

  1. For founders, it’s important to know that food safety and sourcing standards – a pillar of strength for large CPG companies – is often lacking with start-ups and can be deal killers once a strategic investor starts to poke around. Thus for founders, it’s important to have consultants scour every corner of the supply chain ahead of a strategic conversation to help clarify areas of opportunity and deal points.

 

  1. For acquirers, it’s vital to recognize the secret sauce for emerging brands is often held in their story that combines mission and values often with a more artisanal product solution that completely redefines what quality means. Best to let them operate independently to help support and retain the trust they’ve earned.

 

  1. Because the path to market is completely different, emerging businesses can be extraordinary places to test new ideas and limited-edition products, while learning best practices. The old recipe of big TV advertising budgets mixed with quarterly price promotions isn’t resonating like it used to, and is antithetical to the more conversational, user experience-oriented world of emerging food and beverage.

Importantly, emerging food brands like Enjoy Life come to market embedded with deeper meaning and a higher purpose that transcends the more transactional genre of volume, velocity and profit.

Not that growth and profit aren’t equally important to the success of new food businesses, but these soul-driven companies recognize the path to riches is paved in reciprocity and relevance to the consumer’s interest in shared values.

Bottom line: the recipe for success inside big food is to allow the acquired businesses to retain the very lifeblood that makes them successful. Their sheer disruptiveness and uniqueness must be honored and fueled while maintaining the often higher quality sourcing commitments on which their recipes are based.

It is the user experience that sits at the foundation of early success for emerging brands – before there’s much of anything to talk about in brand equity. That said, smaller resource- constrained businesses will benefit greatly from a benevolent investor or owner that fills strategic gaps and helps nurture the business, providing expertise or capital where it can make a difference between a base hit and a grand slam home run.

Joel Warady and the Enjoy Life team sit as a worthy example of how remarkable innovation can prosper inside a much larger organization, continuing to dance to the beat of its own drum while offering a roadmap to the future of the food business.

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.

Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet

March 6th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Uncategorized, Validation 0 comments on “Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet”

Transparency advances to gold standard for successful brand building

The value proposition of verified truth and honesty is rapidly turning into the foundation of strong marketing strategy in an era where consumers, starved of trust and belief, impose change on how brand relationships are built.

We’ve lost the signals of credibility.

Some time ago we reported on the impact of digital conditions in the marketplace and instantaneous access to anything you want to know. This manifests as ‘anything that can be known will be known’ – hence every company now resides in a glass house. This is an outcome of pervasive social and digital communication and dramatically increased scrutiny of how brands and businesses operate. Daily we are confronted with outed fraudulent practices, misinformation and less than genuine product representations, mislabeling, omissions, recalls, investigations, misrepresentations of fact, even indictments — all while messaging perceived as self-reverential brand apple-polishing and brimming with marketing hyperbole falls increasingly on deaf ears.

Toss into this milieu, everyone with a device is now a content creator…and not all content creators (or their motives) are created equally. Today’s digital platforms foster an environment where opinions look like news to our always scanning eye. And those who opine may not be professionally trained, held to or bound by time-honored journalistic practices which have protected the word-consuming public. John Kass, columnist at the Chicago Tribune recently lamented the rush-to-support style of reporting in the Jussie Smollett debacle as evidence of how journalism standards remain vital. He urged reporters to revisit the old but wise axiom of “if your mother loves you, check it out.”

Brand trust heads south.

An outcome of fractures in belief and trust is a shift away from marketing’s traditional tactic of attempted ‘persuasion.’ In this environment, when assertion-based claims are deployed it can breed further contempt. People aren’t buying any of it.

The unintended consequence of always on 24/7 availability of everything about everyone is the rapid spread of information chronicling corporate misfires. The steady drumbeat of ‘caught in the act’ misdeeds subtracts from the consumer’s willingness to trust any voice driven by a profit motive.

  1. In a recent global research study of some 350,000 consumers HAVAS advertising found that consumers would not shed a tear if 77% of the world’s brands were to disappear. So much for the millions invested in building brand equity. If the brand becomes a less relevant commodity in the consumer’s eyes, there’s no deeper meaning or relationship there to be had.

 

  1. Further 58% of advertising and promotion for the world’s 1,800 leading brands is seen as irrelevant. If the communication isn’t constructed around what’s important to the consumer, and is more about the brand’s self-reverential promotion, the disconnect is already embedded in the communications strategy.

 

  1. Of note, brands that are considered truly meaningful to people soared over other businesses on overall impression, purchase intent, advocacy and justification for premium pricing. Meaning, values and purpose are fundamental to earning permission for a relationship. Does a brand have a soul? Apparently one is needed. Those without risk dying on the shelf.

The study concludes: usefulness and delivering on what you say you are may be more important than anything else. What does that tell you? Demonstratingcredibility and taking actions to earn trust are prerequisites to engagement. Transparency is an important path to proven authenticity and belief.

  • The value proposition for truth and honesty goes up daily in proportion to the growing weariness over evidence that some brands operate selfishly at best and dishonestly at worst. What consumers want are brands that listen; that make a priority of working overtime to be relevant and engaged in their lifestyle aspirations. Consumers are resonating to brands that have a soul, stand for something greater than themselves, and see the value of integrity standards and faithfulness to more human values.

There’s equity and opportunity in operating openly. What does the alchemy of advantage look like when the formerly powerful rules of brand command and control that once governed how to go to market no longer apply?

Credible proof in the form of verified and validated claims

Several years ago we were helping a client (Schuman Cheese) in the cheese industry to mitigate rampant fraud, adulteration and mislabeling in their category. A significant percentage of the Italian cheese business in the U.S. was adulterated with lesser ingredients to protect profit margins. To help solve the challenge, we developed and launched the first trust mark in the cheese industry. The True Cheese seal we created would appear on product packaging to signal the product inside meets or exceeds the standard of identify for the type of cheese, and that the ingredient label is indeed truthful.

Outside testing of products bearing the seal would be done randomly and unannounced by sampling retail products from store shelves – the same products consumers buy. Tests performed by a respected outside third-party laboratory confirmed adherence to the code of Federal regulation and findings were published.

When we launched it was a big media story – about fake Parmesan cheese – that went viral in 72 hours and got sufficient traction in popular culture to prompt the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to feature an entire segment on the adulterated Parmesan cheese development.

Important to note that retailers resonated to the verified trust approach and believed they were better off to stock the real thing than take chances with something that might not be.

What’s the story you’re telling?

Consumers want the truth but understandably are reticent to accept company assertions at face value. Hence the incredible surge of interest in Transparency.

Being transparent means you allow consumers to observe for themselves what goes on behind the corporate curtain in product creation and ingredient sourcing.

Trust marks and seals are shorthand for validation. Standards and testing organizations like NSF.org are gaining traction as companies in food, beverage and lifestyle categories increasingly look for ways to credibly prove the quality story embedded in their products.

Recently Organic Valley and Maple Hill jointly announced the “Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program” to address misleading labeling in the grass-fed dairy products marketplace. The program, unlike others in the organic category, requires a full supply chain verification before qualifying to use the mark.

The strategic linkage in these validation programs and others we predict will come, is recognition that trust is vital to consumers and that assertions aren’t good enough to secure belief. Transparency’s call for openness and clarity, for access and demonstration to be brought to life through various techniques aimed at letting consumers, experts and media in the tent to see for themselves what brands hope they will recognize as truth.

Blockchain to digitize honesty

Perhaps the most significant development to come in the quest for verifiable trust is the advancement of digital solutions that are essentially tamperproof. Blockchain’s great promise is digital ledgers and contracts supported by the deployment of sensors and scanners — and backed by algorithms that monitor and validate every step from the soil to the store. Truth tech that will prove the tomato’s organic and heirloom heritage, its cultivation and harvest, its safe handling and freshness from the ground to store shelf.

Imagine the marketing opportunity that awaits for digitally verified trust… Emergent is following the development of Blockchain technology and is studying its evolution as we seek to stay ahead of Transparency strategies for our clients.

Where are you on the curve to provide these proof points in your marketing strategy?

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.

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