Posts in Insight

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.

How to get the very best from your agency partners

April 27th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, Emergent Column, Insight, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “How to get the very best from your agency partners”

What do good clients do?

Marketing isn’t easy. It’s tough and intellectually demanding. It requires an integrated understanding of product and brand strategy, coalesced with consumer insight and served in a warm basket of relevant creative, business-building solutions.

  • There’s really no way to do this well without both parties getting deeply involved in the work.

Unless of course, the goal is just to mark time and fill slots for a la carte communications tactics across a spectrum of expected “support tools” identified in a marketing plan.

On the other hand, if the goal of engaging an agency in the first place is transformative business results then the aforementioned collaborative effort is mission critical.

So what’s the alchemy that governs whether or not this kind of client/agency collaborative thinking occurs? What’s required in the relationship dynamic that makes for fertile ground in delivering out-sized outcomes?

Here it is, in a word: partnership. The truly successful agency and client relationships perform optimally because of aligned interests and goals. But what does that word partner really mean?

  • It begins as a unique way of thinking and behaving with your agency allies that springs from a foundation of trust and inclusion: “yes, we’re in this together.”

For context you can look at the flip side. The opposite of partner might be vendor: an outside supplier cost center to be managed and controlled; confined to a set of stay-in-your-lane guardrails and vertical silo thinking. A fulfillment cog in the marketing wheel to deliver a communications tactic, be it PR, advertising, social media, content or the like. Absence of genuine client/agency trust equates to “relationships” that are governed financially with one-sided agendas (spend as little as possible) and keeping agencies at a ‘do your job’ distance.

The true value of an agency partner

Good agencies are an amalgam of consultant and guide, business strategist, creative thinker, an outside resource devoted to marketing, strategy and communication across a spectrum of businesses and categories.

Better firms are also an elite think tank of communication insight experts. The best of them see a client’s business challenges holistically and not just as a place to apply artistic skill sets in creating engaging campaigns – as if the goal of the ad agency is just making another ad, or the PR firm slating another media interview – rather than their full engagement in creating a strategic solution to address the client’s need or problem in whatever form that might take.

But to really gain the most of a mutual investment, a relationship a true partnership must be symbiotic, with shared wins and benefits.

What do agencies want?

  • Clients that bring them all the way in and share every relevant detail of how their business operates and the challenges they face. Thus, providing enough visibility to information so an agency can truly serve as a trusted and entrusted advisor.
  • Clients should openly ask for counsel, both informative and challenging. Those who overtly say – “we want your best advice, your best ideas at all times. We want your honesty, too, when you think we’re not making a good decision.”
  • Clients who recognize that agencies are businesses too, and deserve to make a reasonable profit from the relationship. This manifests usually as a declaration from the client early in a new assignment: “we want our account to be a profitable one in your company and in return we ask for the very best of your experienced minds engaged to help meet our business goals and solve our problems.”
  • Clients who routinely ask their agencies to weigh in on challenging issues whether they be operational, R&D, cultural, financial or marketing; these are the very best clients because it’s so exceptional when it happens. These clients recognize the breadth, experience and value of agencies that often come equipped with prior experience where similar challenges have been solved successfully. Music to agency ears is the sweet song of trust and respect these requests imply.

Agency obligations

Superior athletes reach for the very best every time they take the field. So, too, agencies have to bring their “A” game everyday. There’s no way to do that unless you become invested in and are passionate about the client’s business. If the agency is operating with the client’s needs and best interests in mind, this will be evident in the daily effort, responsiveness and program outcomes.

  • If the agency sees client work simply as a financial management proposition, then the focus will be on deliverables within budgets, management of staff time to this agenda, and a quick move to ring the alarm bell if work goes out of scope. Nothing wrong with disciplined business management, but if the culture is primarily about managing for profit rather than adding value to the client relationship, the former will subtract from the latter.
  • So for agencies, the partnership begins with making the client’s business a continuing, ongoing study: evaluating and tracking the competitive environment, trade media, and other sources of business intelligence. The more you know the better this gets. It’s as if the client’s business is your own and thus worthy of the attention this priority will receive.
  • This ongoing commitment should be delivered in an envelope of respect for the superior knowledge clients possess of their own business. At times, in the name of leadership, agencies can get off track into “my way” land, based on we-know-best thinking. This form of arrogance usually ends in disintegration of trust and has no place in the mutual respect universe. Disagreement is ok and expected. Brinksmanship, though, is no way to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

Humanity – the glue that binds

When there’s belief that people from both camps are operating in mutual best interest, then agency and client combinations will work optimally. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, business decisions are made emotionally not rationally. It is the human condition.

We sense almost immediately when people are genuine, when we like each other, when we’re being honest and open. Life is short, and thus fit and chemistry matter. The kind of fit that occurs when people think highly of each other and actively work to see things from the other’s point of view.

So optimally, a good dose of values, integrity and empathy becomes the daily vitamin all involved in the client/agency partnership ingest to keep the mission focused on success all the way round.

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.

Wild Idea Delivers Fresh Engagement and New Meaning

November 29th, 2017 Posted by brand strategy, branded content, Content Marketing, digital tools, Insight 0 comments on “Wild Idea Delivers Fresh Engagement and New Meaning”

A Turkey that shows its marketing intelligence…

Awhile back we took note that actor Matthew McConaughey had signed on with the Wild Turkey brand as marketing and creative director. Seemed at first like a bit of a stunt, however if their latest venture is any example, this pairing has inspired some relevant thinking served with effective outcomes.

So often in the adult beverage and spirits category we see the same tale told about distilleries and barreling, liquid aging and founder legacy. You can almost write the pitch from brand to brand and interchange the names; it’s an old saw of sameness laced with differing graphic elements.

  • But marketing has evolved in the face of seismic changes in how consumers behave and how their relationships with brands are built. Authenticity counts as we heralded in our last post. So, how does this play out in the real world with Kentucky bourbon? McConaughey and his colleagues at Wild Turkey mine the zeitgeist of deeper connections and meaning with an inspired idea to bring fresh turkeys at Thanksgiving to nearly every household in their headquarters town of Lawrenceburg, KY.

Two hundred and fifty employees fanned out to bring 4,500 Butterball®-donated turkeys to homes while a video crew captures the adventure in real time with McConaughey ringing doorbells. Local families opened their front doors in astonishment as the Hollywood moment unfolded in front of them.

First, the video is surprising and engaging. McConaughey himself is humanized in his role as the deliveryman of holiday cheer and thanksgiving. The reaction of people experiencing the moment was emotional, and we get to participate with them in their amazement at the generosity and celebrity touch.

The video itself is simple and captures the experience as it occurs. There’s no overt brand messaging in the traditional sense. But there’s more going on here than meets the marketing eye. It’s engagement and mattering when so much of what passes for marketing misses this objective.

We witness straightforward, honest, entertaining and emotional communication with real human value at its core. Just brilliant. This will do more for the brand than a 100 of the bottle beauty shot ads with a glowing amber pour. It’s inspired thinking that honors how marketing has changed in the era of relevance to consumers and their lives.

Additionally, Wild Turkey also donated 50,000 Thanksgiving meals to Share our Strength and another 580 turkeys to the town’s food bank. The entire project served as a launch pad for their “Friendsgiving to End Hunger” campaign aimed at securing additional matched donations to the charity partner. Here’s the sign-up landing page.

Watch the adventure here:

Perhaps we could call this approach real-vertising. It’s unexpected, honest, authentic and told in real-people terms. The Turkey distribution is a worthy cause and backed by extensions that help others in true need. Great thinking. A higher purpose served.

As someone who has never been much of a bourbon drinker, I feel compelled to go out and purchase a bottle. And that’s saying a lot for someone who considers himself more of a creative critic and creator than marketing target.

Hats off, Wild Turkey!

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.

Cheese is cheese is cheese

Cheese is cheese is cheese, or is it?

October 24th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Culinary inspiration, food experiences, food retail strategy, Insight, shopper behavior, storytelling 0 comments on “Cheese is cheese is cheese, or is it?”

Inspiring craft of the world’s longest standing savory solution

For whatever reason, the powers that be decided years ago that a portion of Emergent’s client pedigree would include helping grow and develop cheese brands. Our culinary roots and passions have surfaced time and again to help guide products that – on one level, look to be a commodity and on another, is anything but.

Today, cheese sits in the same refrigerated dairy foods segment alongside yogurt and butter, as the second most frequently purchased category at food retail.

  • Yet when planning in commodity food categories, how do you find the path to uniqueness, separation and own-able distinctions? Brands are doing business today in an environment where direct assertions of “better than brand B or C” or self-declarations of superior quality simply won’t work.

Meanwhile, cheese consumption has increased; and people love the rich, savory and varied flavor profiles cheese delivers more than ever. In fact, it is this creation complexity and nuance that makes cheese making such an inspiring process to observe – where seeing and tasting is believing – and differentiation is borne, in part, through experiencing the ingredient and craftsmanship stories.

Consumers care more than ever about the backstory on products and brands they’re interested in. The tale surrounding cheese making and the influence of terroir, dairy management, milk quality, craftsmanship and creativity exercised by experienced cheese makers. The cheese making backstory offers a rich tapestry of narratives on product creation and authenticity.

We created a “cheese immersion experience” for a topflight group of food writers on behalf of Schuman Cheese at their creamery in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin. The mostly New York-based media visited cows at the dairy and saw up close time-honored cheese making practices and innovation steps. The look of astonishment on the faces of these writers was only equaled by the consistent comments of “I never knew how complex it is to produce higher quality cheese,” and “people just don’t understand what goes into that wheel of Parmesan.”

That consensus among the writers and their inspired stories were an outcome of quality time with, and passionate storytelling by, Schuman’s lead cheese maker, Christophe Megevand and fourth generation family member, Allison Schuman. A story, which if left untold, could have easily relegated a great brand into a commodity position.

Commodity category? Not if you’re willing to challenge conventions.

For a very long time, the leading market share in dairy aisle cheese has been held by price driven store brands, implying by definition that cheese is cheese is cheese. We worked with a leading brand in this ‘high velocity’ part of the store, Sargento Cheese, to help them overcome the impact of commoditization on their business prospects.

Working in partnership with the Sargento executive team, we started to disrupt category conventions; first, through redefining the category typical ‘all-things-to-all-people’ consumer audience. We collaborated on segmentation research that narrowed the focus to a food savvy shopper we called Food Adventurers. This is a heavy user persona passionately involved with food experience, cooking, and concern about the quality of the ingredients they use. Further, we built a premiumization platform that engaged highly respected artisan cheese makers for new product innovation. This new strategic approach informed a full reset covering brand positioning, packaging, unique products and communications.

Our new, reenergized strategy for marketing focused on a consumer who is naturally interested in cheese quality and responded positively to the brand’s close alignment with their passions and priorities around the kitchen and table. We built new digital channels of communication, created content with celebrity chef influencers; sponsored culinary events that further restaged perceptions of the brand; and constructed a significant new profit story told to the trade.

The outcome was a dramatic performance lift and led to share gains over rival Kraft.

New era for cheese is now developing

Things have changed lately as consumers flock to the perimeter of the grocery store in search of higher quality, more authentic food experiences. The supermarket Deli is home to solutions for culinary inspiration (recipes), entertaining experiences and higher-quality snacking.

As retailers respond to consumer interest in better and more varied flavor experiences, the Deli cheese case, like the wine department, increasingly offers a treasure of variety. But as you survey the cheese case, the blur of similar looking wedges and blocks suggests commodity conditions reign even here.

  • So, the strategic push for differentiation and own-able distinctions are a challenge we relish as marketing thinkers and creators.

In the previous mass media era, food brands could be established and built with a good, memorable jingle or tagline flourish. The world has indeed changed as people step further towards demonstrable evidence of quality commitments and know-how that transcend the conventions of hype-over-help communication.

Now, truth and validation become the precursors to building consumer trust, the essential ingredient in any brand/consumer relationship. Fortunately, new media such as social channels and digital video help facilitate the transition to help-over-hype.

Commodity is a real thing for any agricultural product category but only becomes calcifying if you let sameness invade the context in how brands are presented. The stories of family involvement, craftsmanship, mission and ingredient integrity can create emotional moments of belief.

Emergent has a track record of creatively and strategically mining differentiation and value in commodity businesses. Building a narrative that sits underneath product creation and the team leaders who help inspire differences and bring them to life is part of an eco-system of solutions that offer a sense of true distinction.

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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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