Posts in Insight

Alert: Buying Patterns in Full Shift

March 17th, 2020 Posted by change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital ordering, e-commerce, grocery e-commerce, Growth, Higher Purpose, Insight, Social media, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Alert: Buying Patterns in Full Shift”

Marketing now with meaning and empathy

According to Marketing Dive and research from DISQO, online search and purchase behavior has increased 59 percent in the last week, led by cleaning supplies and health aids, while massive sales bumps are occurring also around shelf-stable food and beverage products. The extraordinary conditions reveal signs of an emerging new phase, ‘Quarantine or Restricted Living’ preparation as consumers hunker down at home for the long haul.

On Monday, Amazon announced hiring of 100,000 new positions to help them keep up with the surge in online transactions and added pressures on their delivery infrastructure. Meanwhile restaurant companies are in full pivot mode, making new moves to answer the need for curated family meals available through pick-up and delivery.

  • One restaurant in Chicago, Prairie Grass Café, has opened a hotline service called From Our Kitchen to Yours, in an effort to help home cooks with guidance and advice on cooking and meal preparation. Meanwhile Weber Grill is creating Family Grill Packs, available through DoorDash delivery or takeout.

E-commerce transactions are likely to increase dramatically in the coming weeks, as people increasingly stay put, under guidance from the Center for Disease Control and state/local governments and departments of health. Emergent forecasts these behavioral moves will likely represent a lasting change that will usher in a new era of online food shopping and meal acquisition from a variety of sources. Removing friction from online search, menu-building, transactions and delivery will be vital as this story unfolds.

Marketing in the midst of uncertainty

It is important that brands approach marketing by leaning in with empathy and deeper meaning, working to be useful and helpful in this unprecedented environment. The question marketing teams should be asking: how can we help families cope with the stresses they are facing, the lifestyle upheaval of home-bound living, and the requirement of cooking and preparing virtually every meal?

This is the opportunity to be a partner and valued voice, helping consumers with these challenges rather than focusing on product feature/benefit selling. Before you is an opportunity to build lasting relationships that positions the brand with higher purpose, as a more human and approachable, trusted guide and resource.

Positive indicators

Businesses in food, beverage, pet, cleaning, health aids, and home-related categories are likely to prosper in the current situation, along with e-commerce platforms and delivery services.

We will get through this together. Brands will emerge on the other side as more enlightened, authentic and trustworthy businesses truly making a difference in customers’ lives.

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

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

Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail

March 13th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, consumer behavior, e-commerce, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, Human behavior, Insight, Retail brand building, Social media, Supermarket strategy, Validation 1 comment on “Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail”

Your next moves to retain trust and reputation

Right now, your consumers are worried, bewildered, concerned and uncertain about what shoes might drop next. They are being sent home from the office, schools are shutting, sports and entertainment events are gone, Spring break vacations are upended, and the future impacts of the pandemic are hard to predict.

We know you equally have concerns and are working hard to address any uncertainties. We’re with you and know your heart is in the right place.

This is a significant moment on the continuum where brand trust and reputation can be secured or injured. What you do next will matter, and it’s important to note that communication may be one of the most important assets at your disposal.

  • Honest, transparent messaging breeds trust and feeds patience, while silence will fuel uncertainty and dilute confidence.

Number one: communicate early and often

This is not the time to be quiet. If you make or sell a consumable product, especially food, beverages or pet food, people are worried about what comes next. Here’s what they want to know, right now.

For CPG

  1. Is there anything going on in your supply chain that will negatively impact the availability of your products? You may not have all the answers but it’s better to communicate current status than to stay silent. What you don’t know you state as such.
  2. What’s happening in your manufacturing, whether that be your own facilities or co-packers, with respect to employee activity, plant hygiene, and mitigation plans should people be sent home?
  3. What are your standards, methods, procedures on maintaining vigilance over ingredient integrity and safety, and testing for same through the product creation process?
  4. How can they get your products and services online? We know that feels like a ‘water is wet’ type question but it’s important and should be addressed in these conditions.

For retailers

  1. Are you able you keep customers apprised of out-of-stocks and shelf replenishment schedules?
  2. Can your pharmacy experts set aside scheduled time for by-phone consultations or online Q&A’s?
  3. Are you signaling home delivery wait times when capacity is stretched?
  4. What are your food handling an on-premise hygiene policies and procedures to help avoid any contamination?

The message matters

Your voice in this moment will impact the outcome. It’s important to avoid corporate speak, industry jargon and complex, “inside baseball” forms of messaging that only an employee can unravel.

A human, approachable voice including information that is presented with clarity and transparency will resonate with those you wish to reach. People routinely ignore dense, complex, analytical-style messages. Simple is better.

This is not the time for grand standing, self-promotional and brand-anthem style outreach that attempts to pass over the reality of what’s happening. Instead, empathy and care for the health and wellbeing of your users should ring through everything you release or post.

Next steps

  • Publish updates and trust-enhancing content at your web site and in your social channels on a weekly basis. More often if you have new news to share.
  • Keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Encourage dialogue and conversation at your social sites to invite questions from fans and followers.
  • As the situation changes, keep your stakeholders informed.
  • Be generous of spirit and look for “surprise and delight” opportunities and stories for users and channel customers. Celebrate helpfulness, acts of kindness, and ‘we’re all in this together’ kinds of inspirational unity.

Navigation leads to reputation

Your efforts to be accessible, approachable and honest here will lead to respect and confidence among the stakeholders that matter to the future of your business. Both internal and external audiences will benefit greatly from your efforts to keep them apprised of what’s going on.

As always should you need help navigating these uncharted waters, we’re here to support you with guidance, messaging, copy, media and anything else you might need.

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

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

Bloomberg: the $500 Million Marketing Misfire

March 9th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, branded content, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Bloomberg: the $500 Million Marketing Misfire”

A compelling lesson for CPG and retail marketers

Regardless of what you think of Mike Bloomberg’s politics, his relatively short-lived candidacy for President was fueled by a pervasive, high tonnage ad campaign that ultimately flamed out.

While there were varying executions in rotation, the primary television and radio effort was a chronicle of his achievements. This approach was fundamentally flawed from the start, as it ignored the new conventions of authentic messaging engagement in the era of consumer control. It stands as a very expensive example of what not to do and a lesson to CPG and retail marketers everywhere that the new rules of consumer engagement must be acknowledged, even by well-funded political ad campaigns.

It also serves to remind us that the path to market is substantially different now, and big TV budgets are no guarantee of success. We’re doing business in a changed world where other channels (like social media) and more genuine forms of outreach matter more. The glossy cinematic ads can’t make up for an absence of genuine emotional human connection, trust and belief.

Who is the hero? Don’t Be like Mike

The prevailing message in Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign was a bulleted list –

  • Mike built a global business empire from the ground up
  • Mike took charge of the 9-11 response in New York
  • Mike made affordable housing happen on his watch
  • Mike took on the NRA
  • Mike funded college education for those in need
  • Mike stood up to the coal lobby

The list goes on. Not unlike many other campaigns we see on a regular basis, the hero of this story is Mike Bloomberg. You can see the discussions going on with his media handlers building a list of their candidate’s ‘features and benefits’ ready to fire the cannon volley about his wins and achievements. We find the same thing going on with food, beverage and lifestyle brands, building a focus around all the reasons why the product and brand are superior to the other guys.

Embedding disconnect in the message platform

The $500 million misfire started with upside-down messaging. The hero of any politician or brand story isn’t the politician or brand. It is the voter, the consumer. Every single day human beings wake up believing they are the heroes of their life journey.

It is their lives, passions, problems, struggles, concerns, needs, wants and aspirations that matter most. That’s why we build the story around the consumer as hero with the candidate or brand operating as the expert and sage guide to help them win and solve their problems.

When the hero is Mike Bloomberg, the message is now competing with voters for the hero role. It fails to engage as people move on to find the expert guide who will forge a better future for them and their families.

In the brand marketing world, so much effort goes into making the highest quality products and services that the marketing plan is laser focused on trumpeting the superior product features. Seems only logical to do so, right?

  • When the brand is the hero and not the consumer, a fundamental flaw exists that will interfere with engagement, and no amount of media spending is going to overcome that fracture.

Messaging matters to outcomes

If the messaging is wrong, nothing works – and the major media spend simply serves to push the broken agenda in more directions. Marketing investments indeed can be wasted. This is why Emergent devotes a significant amount of work upfront with clients mapping the right message platform, with the consumer as hero of the storytelling. Then and only then, will the application of media tools and channels deliver on the desired objectives.

If the consumer isn’t listening it doesn’t matter that the message shows up early and often. Technology today allows people to avoid anything they don’t see as relevant to them. People resonate to people. We want the heroes of our favorite stories to overcome the odds. Heroes are almost always flawed characters who need help to succeed. This is where the brand enters the picture as the Yoda to Luke Skywalker. You remember that Luke doubted himself all the way to the climatic end when he finally believed in the Force and his Jedi training.

Media in the new age

The goals of media planning today are about genuine, credible, believable and trusted forms of outreach. Thus, why great care must be taken when using influencers because this can work at cross purposes if post authenticity appears to be compromised by payment. Earned media is a vital channel due to the reportorial, non-paid status it holds. Social communities are destinations for people to share personal experiences, a digital form of word-of-mouth. This is why social proof is so important to earning trust.

If the goal is to help improve the lives of your users and if you are working to embed a higher purpose and deeper meaning for your brand that transcends the basics of product selling, you have a shot at creating a ‘movement’ and securing legions of fans who want your marketing rather than tuning it out.

We can help you create a more transcendent relationship with consumers and messaging they will connect with. Don’t be like Mike…

Want to discuss your challenges informally? 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. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Emerging Trend: The Personalization of Food

February 27th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Culinary lifestyle, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Transformation 0 comments on “Emerging Trend: The Personalization of Food”

Creating hyper-relevant products for the marketplace of one

Have you noticed over the last 20 years palates have become more sophisticated? Quality expectations around menus, ingredients and preparations have grown alongside the rising popularity of celebrity chefs. Elevated cooking is everywhere. A genuinely satisfying culinary experience can now be had at the neighborhood gastro-pub. Great food experience is just an arm’s reach away. This is evidence of a food culture shift.

Equally so, food literacy has jumped with the treasure trove of content available online that satisfies the consumer’s thirst to know more about the food they put in their bodies. This concern got traction when people generally connected the dots between the quality of the food they consume and the quality of their lives. People now understand that diet influences the foundation of health and wellness, and sub-optimal nutrition may contribute to the onset of disease. More culture driven transformation.

An outcome of being in constant control is the marketplace of one

While the importance of food-to-lifestyle goals climb, the consumer’s ability to control every aspect of brand engagement, curation of the information and media they ingest has changed their expectations and their worldview. Culturally, people no longer buy the idea of one size fits all, and this applies equally to dietary sensibilities and food regimens.

The North American CPG food business is evolving towards a market of one. It hasn’t fully arrived yet, but the signs are emerging around a desire for more personalized and customized food and beverage solutions. A recent report on this topic by The Hartman Group cites the growing interest in individualized and hyper-relevant products and food experiences.

This step into personalized nutrition is already being reflected in dietary preferences, shopping behaviors, food preparation skills and techniques and most of all, consumption. What’s coming soon is the marriage of personalization and customization with health and wellness to redefine the future of the food and beverage business.

Factors influencing the personalization trend can be seen in the consumer’s growing interest in biomarkers. When people start to pay attention to DNA kits and reports, blood glucose levels and microbiomes, it is an outgrowth of the desire to truly understand how to optimally fuel oneself. We are all unique and our lives impacted by how we are assembled from the moment we arrive on earth.

  • By the way, this emerging trend in human food will crossover to pet food at some point because the same rules apply.

Be-spoke menus and meals

People want to tailor the food they eat to their needs and preferences. I like the ordering line at Chipotle for that very reason. I can get the burrito exactly how I want it. What’s going on there is a sense of control that sits at the foundation of its appeal. We ask the question: how can food and beverage businesses answer the desire for greater dietary control?

One way to look at this is to follow the thread of dietary concerns that are gaining momentum.

Here are some leading-edge areas ripe for innovation and fresh perspective:

  • Stress, anxiety and sleeplessness
  • Neuro health
  • Aging and beauty
  • Microbiome (gut health and inflammation)
  • Independence and mobility
  • Food as medicine

These emerging concerns sit alongside the long-standing stalwarts of weight management, energy boost and clean eating, and are now demanding more attention in the aisles at your local supermarket.

Note that all of these emerging nutrition considerations bear witness to the intersection of food as a primary driver of health and wellness. Nutrient density sits at the front door of defining, for the consumer, what is indeed healthy food or drink. From a marketing viewpoint, it’s important to mention here that relevant health & wellness markers such as fresher, less processed, locally and sustainably sourced, simple recipes/labels, real food ingredients and higher quality, matter because of what they represent to a novice or less trusting base of potential purchasers.

Not far away is the growing list of avoidances that accompany the consumer’s food literacy advances. Essential especially for legacy CPG brands to be aware of these concerns and to optimize their formulations to steer clear of problem areas like GMOs, hormones, antibiotics and preservatives.

What can be emphasized here is a prevailing consumer desire to accumulate positive nutrients, in an effort to improve and better manage health and wellbeing. When beef jerky becomes a positive contributor to wellbeing with cleaner labels and vastly improved recipes, you know goodness can be created just about anywhere. Check out Prevail Jerky.

Emergence of new food and beverage is symptomatic of cultural shift

With the barriers to entry for new food and beverage concepts near zero, the marketplace is awash in improved ideas touting higher quality ingredients and simple labels to legacy categories . It is a reflection of consumer interest in better-for-you.

So, too, will the desire for more customized solutions gain momentum as it mirrors the consumer’s view that who they are, what they want and their perceived unique needs and preferences.

  • Answering this call will be the next great revolution in food as businesses work to create more options that answer the desire for hyper relevance.

Functional shopping at the store

Increasingly people are shopping for attributes – looking for solutions to the dietary challenges they face. Food retail today doesn’t offer much help in this context. Online searches for energy solutions doesn’t necessarily serve up a relevant menu of alternatives.

Personalization and customization reflect a growing interest in finding answers. Label Insight has landed on this and is working to provide digital platform solutions that enable food retail shoppers to search by attribute, especially important when faced with a store environment of thousands of SKUs. What’s in the health and wellness aisle when options in this area become more pervasive across the entire store?

The consumer’s move towards hyper relevant food is a huge consideration for brands related to what’s in the wings for product improvements and formulations. You can’t make these assessments from a distance. Consumer insight research, more than ever, is required to best determine the pace of this evolution and how the consumer considers this from a product attribute and shopping perspective.

Consumer-centricity is the path to your success

  • The consumer has to be at the center of strategic planning
  • Assessments of how consumers see personalization requires getting close-in on their needs
  • Retailers should then support how consumers want to shop for foods with various health & wellness attributes
  • Retail shopping experience matters more than ever, and these insights can help create that roadmap

Insight and Emergent

Your goal is to build relevancy in an era of constant and rapid change, where cultural shifts are redefining the business based on the consumer’s desire for personalized food solutions.

We help clients with this form of discovery research, and then help build strategic plans to translate insight into an innovation and marketing communications game plan.

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

Jump to change

When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen

February 20th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transparency 0 comments on “When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen”

Create a movement or sell features and benefits?

Consumers are masters now of recognizing traditional marketing tactics and opting out to avoid communication that comes across as self-promotional. On the flip side, brands that position themselves as enablers and expert guides on what’s important to consumers are finding an open path to consumer engagement and conversation.

We know the latter can be difficult to accomplish.

It’s hard to step away from the reflex to self-promote.

However, we also know you care deeply about effectiveness and outcomes.

Understanding the difference between the two pathways (self-promotion vs. enabler communication) is vital to making marketing investments payoff – it’s the difference between creating marketing people want rather than ignore. The path to brand relevance now requires a more enlightened and human approach to how the brand and business is presented.

In an ad industry trade story authored by R/GA agency CEO Bob Greenberg that influenced Emergent’s point of view about marketing best practices, he said the definition of a big idea is one that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact the behavior of a company and brand.

A big idea was NOT defined as a catchy slogan or a clever ad or promotion, rather a platform that would have bearing on how the company conducts its business and how the brand behaves in the marketplace. Here we are in 2020 with an elevated idea of what that concept means today.

  • If the purpose of the business is simply to uptick the number of transactions year on year, and the role of marketing is to feed the sales funnel in that endeavor, what are we potentially leaving on the table?

A few years ago, Emergent and insight research firm Fresh Squeezed Ideas, conducted a webinar on the value of businesses working to define their unique Higher Purpose. The premise of this concept is relatively simple: people want to be a part of something that’s greater than themselves. The goal here, to imbue the brand with deeper meaning and by doing so reframe its value proposition while inspiring people to “join” the brand as believers not just buyers.

Beyond Meat says it wants to change how people eat while taking better care of our natural resources. This is different than selling reformulated vegan burgers. The opportunity here is significant when rethinking the mission and purpose of the business, and in doing so creating a more powerful narrative that will draw consumers towards the brand.

Large cap legacy food and beverage businesses struggle now in part because it’s harder to inject an established business platform with soul-like thinking. It’s a cultural transformation that has to start at the very top if it’s to have a prayer of altering the course of a larger enterprise.

Higher purpose is not reserved only for new and emerging brands. In fact, we’ve been surprised of late at the number of new food and beverage businesses that are stuck in the feature/benefit promotional cycle and have not developed any form of mission and purpose that could recast how consumers perceive them beyond a cleaner label.

So we ask: what can galvanize an organization to stretch itself and its brand persona beyond the daily battle for transactions?

Marketing magic is no longer reserved for the clever ad theme or artistic copy point. The old tools don’t work like they used to because the consumer isn’t listening and has the ability to avoid it entirely. People hunger for more honest, authentic connections to the brands that matter to them.

Yeti coolers is an iconic example of a brand that said, “no we are not in the better cooler business.” Instead they are enablers of outdoor adventure, tapping into a deep yearning people have for the experiences and lifestyle aspirations around fishing and hunting.

As a marketer what would you rather do? What kind of conversation do you want to build?

Apple created a way to remove intimidation from computer technology and provide a pathway for creative people to express themselves. The focus isn’t on the machine or its technology but on the aspirational desires and interests people have to make a difference in the world around them.

Reflexively, traditional thinking says the brand marketing should be waxing on about the product and its features. However, this injects the message with a disconnect. Instead, for greater communication effectiveness, the consumer must be the hero of the storytelling with the brand positioned as guide and enabler.

The question we often get is, how do you conduct discovery on what the right higher purpose should be?

Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis is intended to help arrive at the right purpose framework that reflects the unique DNA of the company. The process, however, begins with insight to the consumer’s lifestyle interests, passions, concerns, challenges, wants and needs.

That understanding then aligned with the company’s capabilities, beliefs and strengths helps lead us to a purpose that clarifies the business mission and informs marketing and messaging strategies.

Transparency for example can be viewed as an on-trend tactic. At a more strategic level it can solve three problems: first, to provide visibility to the supply chain. Second, to create consumer confidence in the quality and origin of ingredients used in products. Third, and at a more existential level, it is about embracing truth and honesty – two human characteristics people are naturally drawn to in an era of half-truths and missteps.

Honest Tea made honesty a hallmark of its mission and reason to be. The company ran an honesty gut-check through every aspect of how it conducted itself, how it presented the product and behaved in the marketplace. You may already know the success achieved there; the reframing of the RTD tea category they created and the multiples they reaped on sale of the business to Coca-Cola.

Example questions we explore:

  1. What journey is our consumer on and what can the brand help enable to improve their lives?
  2. What cultural shift or concern is important to users and how can we get involved?
  3. What do we believe as an organization and how can we operate to support a more purposeful mission?

When the brand acquires a Higher Purpose, it reframes the conversation with consumers, it enables storytelling opportunities that will draw consumers into considering or learning more about the brand. The business is no longer wed to aggregating eyeballs and attempting to win on the tonnage of media spend.

The impact on employees can be dramatic, too – the team also wants to be part of something greater than themselves and the organization can rally around the mission with amped up drive, power and commitment to the greater good.

Genuinely helping improve your customers’ lives is a satisfying calling, and this corporate form of reciprocity will attract rather than repel people from your marketing investments.

This is the path to sustainable growth and progress.

If you would like to know more about Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis, let us know.

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

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

Serving a Narrower Audience of Devoted Fans is a Recipe for Success

February 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, Emotional relevance, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Serving a Narrower Audience of Devoted Fans is a Recipe for Success”

One brand’s story of transformational growth.

Awhile back we represented Sargento Foods, today the leading brand in dairy case cheese. When we started, Sargento was looking for a new chapter in its legacy as a packaged cheese-specialist, family-owned company. However, the Sargento business was challenged with rampant category commoditization – cheese is cheese is cheese. The segment share leader was store brand, providing ample evidence that consumers primarily bought on price.

  • Our goal was to transform the business by reinventing the dairy case cheese category. In doing so, devise a competitive advantage for Sargento that would change the landscape against historic branded segment leader, Kraft Foods.

Working in collaboration with Brad Flatoff, Sargento Chief Marketing Officer, insight research was commissioned to dig into consumer segmentation and behaviors in cheese use. The effort unearthed an evolving consumer relationship with food. A new and important audience was emerging, roughly 26% of the category overall, who were heavy cheese users and had a budding love affair with food.

  • This food-savvy audience formed the foundation of the Food TV Network’s expanding fan base.
  • They love being in the kitchen, or on the culinary receiving end, appreciated higher quality cooking and ingredients.
  • They could tell you about the functional differences of knives and pans they used in the kitchen.
  • They bought cookbooks for inspiration and subscribed to culinary magazines.
  • They were, as characterized in the study, Food Adventurers.

As is often the case in high volume, high velocity businesses, Sargento had cast themselves for years as the choice for everyone and anyone. This thinking ironically contributed to a form of water-treading stasis that held the brand locked in a third-place share position.

Then, a remarkable thing happened. Executive leadership agreed to let the marketing team redefine the target user, narrowing in on Food Adventurers and working backwards from that profile. We built a plan that redefined the category, the product composition, the packaging, pricing strategy and communications.

In short, Sargento elected to become the premium brand in the dairy aisle and play to food quality cues the Food Adventurer would recognize and embrace. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, Sargento wisely decided to pursue an audience that was invested in food experience and paid attention to the ingredients they used.

A new product line was created called Artisan Blends that combined artisan style cheeses with Sargento classic flavors. The step-up line was priced at a premium to other products and the packaging got a make-over to accentuate the tone and visuals of a European more premium esthetic. But most importantly, the messaging was changed, and the communications tactics moved to align with Food Adventurer ambitions in the kitchen.

  • Our strategy put the brand in league with a specific set of consumers as they participated in culinary discovery and pursued elevated taste experiences. Sargento became a sponsor and participant at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, among other events. Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello was retained as a spokesperson and cooking videos were created with him.

Bottom line: the gears were put in motion to carve a new future based on relevance and resonance specific to a food fan consumer.  Becoming important to a segment of the marketplace rather than defaulting to the all-things-to-all-people approach. Since then the retail channel business has transformed and the future, with help from the company’s enormously successful Balanced Breaks snack product line, is on a different trajectory.

Bold moves make for big results

To a large degree the success of this shift was in the hands of Lou Gentine and his son Louie, now CEO. Their willingness to swing for the fence and re-position the business led to the outcomes that have paid lasting dividends.

The lessons here come directly from the consumer and insight into their food needs and interests. Asking, how can we be of greater value to them and make a difference in their lives? When we brought the insight research to life, all aspects of the marketing mix were refocused on how we could build relevance and value with this audience and help them on their culinary journey.

Brand strategy guru Bernadette Jiwa summarized the approach in a recent post:

“Like most of us with something to say, serve or sell, they [marketers] have to do a better job of speaking to only their right customers. They don’t depend on the footfall of mass awareness—they thrive on the loyalty of minority affinity, built one customer at a time, over time. They understand what their customers want, they make promises, then show up consistently, week in week out, without fail to keep them.

There is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. The tactics we use must align with our goals and the goals of the people we want to serve. How are you creating affinity with the minority of people who enable you to do your best work?”

The Sargento case study is a great example of the benefits of narrowcasting and marketing bravery.

  • When you decide to go all in with an audience that cares, and then cater to their wants, needs and aspirations, the results can be very satisfying – even transformative to the business.

This would not have happened without the insight research investment up front that, with trained eyes, unearthed the Food Adventurer target and their culinary aspirations. Armed with this understanding, the marketing plan became a lesson in ‘mattering’ to an audience of food fans. The impact on message and media was a powerful testament to why smaller engaged audience segments can have a significant impact on the balance sheet.

Can we bring this kind of fresh perspective to your business? 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.

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