Posts in Insight

Storytelling can change history, alter the path for brand growth

The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome

January 22nd, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Insight, Public Relations, storytelling, Validation 0 comments on “The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome”

When Real, Powerful Human Stories Must be Told

It’s in the story telling and the strategic nuances of where and how they’re told that great things happen. Over time I have come to see and appreciate these tools that work to greatest effect and benefit in altering the future trajectory of client businesses.

There’s one story that stands out above others. The strategic principles bound up in this example have proven effective time and time again. It recurs often enough to have earned first place in the strategic arsenal as a reliable go-to for business progress. It’s the stories well-told by real people about how their lives have been impacted by our clients’ products.

An unforgettable day, a powerful moment, a sea-change that saved lives

A while back I owned an agency called Wheatley Blair. We were retained by home safety products company First Alert to launch the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm, a warning device for a household hazard that is unseen, dangerous and invisible to any human. It was the leading cause of accidental poisoning fatalities in America, claiming more than 1,500 lives every year and countless thousands more who were sickened or injured.

In our efforts to build a platform for launch we felt it was important to create a constituency of ambassadors including families who had lived through poisoning events or lost loved ones. Alongside them we built an advocate team of poison physicians who understood the threat, air quality experts who could explain how the gas is released and builds up in a home, and the fire service community of emergency first responders. We initiated a collaboration with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency charged with evaluating and monitoring new safety solutions.

Our campaign to alert American families gained traction as major news media broadcast our story of the “Silent Killer.” Word spread rapidly about this household hazard produced by combustion appliances like furnaces, ovens, hot water heaters and fireplaces. People lined up outside at hardware and homecenter stores to buy the alarms.

What we didn’t expect at the beginning was a foe to quickly emerge

The American Gas Association stormed out of the wings taking aim at our client because they felt the issue disparaged their product. Frankly while I understood their concern, it made no sense to me because the threat isn’t the fuel, it’s malfunctioning combustion appliances, exhaust systems and chimneys. But never mind, the industry came out swinging suggesting we were creating unnecessary alarm.

A David vs Goliath story if there ever was one

The natural gas industry is gigantic. They had more money to throw at this issue than our client had in total sales company wide. We were David to a well-financed Goliath. Naturally when this challenge emerged, we made a beeline for the Gas Association head offices looking to enlist them as collaborators in the effort to save lives and protect families. We thought, “Who wouldn’t sign on for that kind of life safety effort?”

  • Walking into the lion’s den, we made an appearance in their executive conference room attempting to persuade them that this was a golden opportunity for the industry to join in a lifesaving education activity.  This would endear them to families while associating their “brand” and product with a public safety initiative.

Unfortunately, they saw the issue as a threat and instead kicked off an effort to try and derail the carbon monoxide education campaign. When you’re working on the side of the angels it is unlikely that even a well-financed effort to discredit and downplay will work.

It came to its pinnacle at an industrywide conference held in Washington DC. It was their effort to rally the regional gas company members around a call to resist the carbon monoxide alarm education efforts and counter with their own claim that this was much ado about nothing.

  • But the handlers inadvertently made a strategic error. To create a perception of due diligence, they invited the Consumer Product Safety Commission to join and be part of the speaker line up. By law if the CPSC is involved in a meeting, it becomes a public event which anyone is free to attend.

Initially we offered to provide speakers and expert content but were denied. We decided to meet the challenge head-on by attending the meeting uninvited. Our strategy: to bring 10 families who had experienced a carbon monoxide disaster of their own to come and tell their stories at the conference. During question-and-answer sessions in the meeting agenda, they would come to the microphone and share their story while challenging the industry to help save lives.

  • One by one families in the audience stood up and told their stories, some of them heart rending of how loved ones were lost. Poison physicians explained how the gas impacts the human body causing people to suffocate from the inside out. Air quality experts detailed how an appliance can malfunction to emit this highly toxic material.

In the hallway outside the ballroom, I observed. My heart was racing as the testimonials unfolded in hostile territory. You could hear a pin drop as the families shared their unscripted, real, personal experiences. Meantime, the chief conference organizer was furious at our team for this move to confront the industry, and threatened to throw us out of the building. I calmly explained that CPSC rules and law require that these families be given entry to what was now a public meeting. If they did throw us out, we would invite national TV news crews to the parking lot to interview the families about being denied access.

He quickly backed down.

The meeting went on.

Then, the sea change occurred.

I witnessed the tide turn before my eyes as gas company CEOs came to the lectern to say they were personally touched by and impressed with what they heard. By the end of the meeting the industry moved to begin educating people about the threat rather than resisting it. Many eventually became sellers of carbon monoxide alarms themselves.

Why did this work so powerfully?

Real people telling honest stories with passion and pathos impacts the heart as much as the head. It is immediately trustworthy in a communications environment often filled with dubious claims and assertions that may or may not hold up under scrutiny.

Negative claims had no power in the face of real personal story. It was overwhelming and in the moment the chasm was bridged, the path permanently altered, and the world changed.

You can do this, too.

I enjoy what I do. Marketing and communication is my life calling. The business has rewarded me with an outlet for my creative bent, a curiously accurate business sense and ability to see the big picture of how client organizations can move to take the next leap in their development and growth.

So it’s really an avocation as much as a vocation. That said, I learned a ton from the First Alert assignment – about the power of stories to alter the course of history and events. What’s more I’ve seen this outcome repeat over and over. When people share their personal stories of change, renewal, improvement and growth, big things can happen and business leaps abound.

  • The devil is in the details of how this is executed. Want people to join your brand as advocates and evangelists? Give them a voice, move those stories out and let their experiences verify what you want people to know and believe about your products and brand.

The outcomes can be life changing. In First Alert’s case, it created a successful new category that propelled the company to a higher level of significance and value with consumers and trade customers, plus $250 million in added business within 15 months of launch. The Walmart buyer called carbon monoxide alarms the Cabbage Patch doll of the hardware department. We called it a significant achievement in the goal to save lives. A win and win.

  • These moments in life and marketing signify the places where we make a difference. Don’t you want to be a part of this kind of game-changing influence?

Let us know if you would be interested in unearthing marketplace impact and influence relevant to your brand and category. Together we can find a path to sustainable growth and business development.

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.

Brand storytelling must be emotionally relevant

Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot

January 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot”

Turning forgettable messaging into UNforgettable engagement…

The vast majority of brand communication fails to engage its intended audience. It’s like continuously pumping messaging fuel into a mental gas tank with a hole in the bottom. Why? Because it is inadvertently constructed to be quickly forgettable.

  • Numerous behavioral research studies confirm within an hour people forget more than half of the information they’ve read, seen or heard. That percentage rapidly accelerates as more time goes by. Pfft, gone.

The message creator hasn’t fully grasped the critical elements of compelling, memorable storytelling that respect with what we know about how people operate. Instead, they lean on fact-based, logical feature/benefit oriented pieces of communication that won’t intersect with the emotional drivers that secure engagement and trust.

Consider this: stories are 22 times more memorable than facts. But what constitutes great storytelling? The best of the best storytellers recognize they are interacting with humans and work to understand specifically what drives cognition and outcome. For one you have to move beyond the product “plot” to plant a beating heart in the brand story with consumer as hero.

You’re speaking to a human

The magic occurs when great communication engages the neurotransmitters that drive people towards and not away from what is being conveyed. The two most important physical elements of messaging brain chemistry are Dopamine and Oxytocin.

Dopamine is a ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that is produced when a person is expecting some kind of meaningful reward or pleasurable experience. Dopamine helps us strive, focus ourselves and find things interesting. It has a direct impact on learning, motivation, mood and attention. The key here is creating anticipation of a sought-after reward.

Oxytocin is a hormone that operates as a neurotransmitter. It is created when people hear and experience how much you appreciate and care about them. Unsolicited acts of kindness can be instrumental in building this response. Oxytocin is the precursor to enhancing empathy and trust. You already know how fundamentally important trust is to any kind of real brand-to-consumer relationship.

  • Do you still believe that fact-based arguments are the way to go? The information will begin to disappear from your customer’s head within an hour.

The most powerful example of this I’ve ever experienced was during our work for home safety products brand First Alert, and the introduction of the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm. It is a living illustration of the link between emotion, empathy and impact on behavior.

The carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning story is laced with facts about sources of this unseen gas in the home, how leaks occur, what happens in the human body when it is ingested, and what the impacts look like. Yet our message testing revealed that none of that held a candle to the power of a personal story about a Maine family who lost their eldest daughter in a CO poisoning incident.

The heart-wrenching narrative about what happened to this family made the case for protection from an invisible threat in a far more personally-compelling way than any fact or figure ever could. Relate-able emotion is a powerful and influential communications tool.

The path to better communication outcomes

What is your consumer looking for? People resonate to a desire for love, connection, acceptance, safety and happiness. The goal here is weaving together a story that encounters this insight in various ways.

Your cheese business is not selling cheese. You are using compelling visuals and copy to convey mouth-watering desire. You’re actually selling incredible taste experiences delivered in a shared social environment people crave. Your narrative wraps in beliefs and values that embed your brand with deeper meaning. This transcends the forgettable ‘buy my cheese’ message because you know people want to be a part of something greater than themselves.

  • Tone here is important. The more human you are in storytelling, the better. Vulnerability and honesty come in to play when you’re reaching for resonance and relevance. Give your audience experiences they can relate to, empathize with and recognize in their own lives.

Want to hear the voice of honest and human?

“Smart phones exist already and they’re stupid. But mine is smarter than your computer at home.” Steve Jobs, launch of the iPhone. Does Jobs employ facts, technology examples or recitation of features? No. He nails the proposition by creating a relate-able context of what was an astonishing revelation in its era. Beautiful.

Story structure

Here’s the question that must be answered in brand storytelling: how does your product change a person’s life? You are working to unearth the true “why” behind a consumer’s reason and desire to purchase.

Stories should address three fundamental elements:

  1. Set up – the problem your product solves. Think long and hard on a higher level about what this is.
  2. Conflict – create some tension around how you go about solving the problem. Is there a villain you can identify?
  3. Payoff – the happy outcome of what success is and what it feels like to prevail.
Remy and food passion
Passion, heart and soul create the basis for message engagement

The Pixar movie “Ratatouille” isn’t about a rat as chef

Yes, the central character Remy the rat can read cookbooks and has ongoing conversations with a famous French chef who is a figment of his imagination. The magic of this story is his love affair with food and flavor combinations. It is his passion for incredible taste experiences that drives him and the arc of the story.

He makes you want to cook, to pick up a knife and chop, to invent and create because of the romance he liberally dollops into his sauté pan. Pixar studios is famous for embedding heart and soul in its movies. What inevitably happens? You get invested, you care, you become engaged and feel empathetic for the characters involved.

  • This understanding of great storytelling is no less important and meaningful in business communications. Your brand deserves this kind of thinking and expression under what could become the unforgettable stories you tell.

If this approach resonates with you, Emergent employs a proprietary brand story telling process to tease out these great narratives and bring them to life. Use this link to find out more.

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.

Embracing strategic vision

Is the strategic vision you need an accident, anomaly or outcome?

January 5th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Transformation 0 comments on “Is the strategic vision you need an accident, anomaly or outcome?”

What’s percolating inside the people behind great leaps in business…

Most often we publish stories about marketing best practices, brand strategy, communications planning and our specialty – emerging trends. However, as we say good riddance to a year many of us prefer to see in the rearview mirror, we’d like to offer a different story about hope, encouragement and guidance for a more prosperous future in 2021.

  • The foundation of success and transformational change springs from a strategic vision that inspires leaps in growth and brand development. What is the unique alchemy that enables this kind of growth? Read on.                                                       

Does strategic vision descend from the heavens on a road near Damascus with a blinding light of revelation from on high?

Many of us in the marketing community have our favorite case studies that demonstrate strategic brilliance and imagination that serve as the foundation of great brands and businesses. Yet we also know that bold marketing moves happen periodically in many categories.

Are these happy accidents and moments of good fortune, bestowed by an unseen spiritual power as benevolent gift to a chosen few? No. Indeed visionary thinking and bold ideas come from the hearts and minds of those who are willing to lean in and break the conventions that can anchor brands to a form of floating, inert stasis in their category pool.

Witness the recent story in Forbes about the newly named Molson Coors Beverage Company, marking their transition from brewery-centric business to a broader and more inclusive portfolio of non-alcoholic, better-for-you brands. Led by visionary Pete Marino at the helm of their Emerging Growth unit, the company is now locked onto evolving consumer trends and preferences, while simultaneously adding value to their distributor relationships. Brilliant.

Game-changing thinking that moves brands and retailers to an improved trajectory is a very human adventure. At the root of all progress are people and teams who assemble the plans and strategies capable of out-sized leaps in growth.

Here we peel the onion on the requirements and conditions that lead to this level of result. At the heart of every great exploration in marketing ‘unchained’ (the kind that teams sign up for as passionate advocates on a mission) is a series of similar characteristics.

Who are you? Yes, you.

All of us have formative stories about who we are. Mine began in Edinburgh, Scotland where I was born. My parents lived there as expats while my father worked on his doctorate degree in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He was offered a teaching position, kicking off a back-and-forth adventure of living in Scotland during the school year, broken up by summertime trips back to the States. In those days the affordable voyages were on Cunard ocean liners for a six-day transatlantic crossing.

Home Sweet Home in Edinburgh, Scotland

From age zero to five I did this repeatedly, generating my own exploratory mindset. To wit, I got lost on the Queen Mary at four years of age, attempting a self-guided below-deck tour to try and find the engine room. Ships and trains were a passion. This innate curiosity remains steadfast in my own repertoire of behaviors. That, and a fondness for warmer destinations after the icy toddler years residing in an 18th century Georgian row house with no central heating. Brrrr!

Can you cite moments and experiences in your own life that helped form your point of view? Your ‘personal chemistry’ is a result of these imprints. Self-awareness of these events helps bring shape and understanding to why you do what you do. It is through this mindfulness that we come to understand how best to direct our strengths and performances.

The personal chemistry required to pursue a strategic leap usually includes a blend of the following:

  • Appetite for risk
  • Willingness to zig when everyone around you zags
  • Departing from convention
  • Thrill of new territory exploration
  • A desire to invent, create something new
  • A belief it can always be better

Confidence in your convictions

What is the common thread that runs through individuals who search for greater meaning and deeper values in the brands they guide? A passion to improve people’s lives and the world around us.

Convictions come in two varieties: first is an acquired point of view borne from study, research, soliciting the opinions of those you trust and listening to experts in your orbit you respect. The unfortunate second is a more rigid principle, an outcome of arrogance that you’re smarter than everyone else. Uff.

  • Great ideas and contributions to better thinking come from everywhere and anyone. As a marketing leader your humility is the first requirement to see and comprehend these nuggets of insight. Without this openness and curiosity, you are ultimately flying blind.
  • We are reminded of the incredible story of Richard Montañez, the erstwhile janitor at Frito-Lay who dreamed up the concept and recipe for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Richard had the temerity to contact the CEO after a C-suite request for innovative ideas from ‘anyone in the company’ and convinced the executive team to make an investment in this Latino market facing snack concept. It was one of Frito Lay’s biggest ever product launches. Richard is now a VP of Latino market sales for Pepsico. His conviction made it happen.

It is within an attitude of operating in service of others and the greater good that big ideas tend to manifest. When you’re able to connect strategy to improving people’s lives – serving unmet needs – you have the basic ingredients of a transformational leap in brand development.

This perspective offers the infrastructure of a mission and value system others will rally around. The convictions that emerge from this approach form the basis of an authentic higher purpose, one that can spell the difference in attracting a genuine community of real fans and advocates.

Convictions stirred with strategy are a strong mix.

Failure is your best friend

Do you believe that failure is a good thing? There is no greater teacher than failing. All of the wins you experience won’t add up to half the insight you will secure through failing and then adapting. If you think you should never fail, then you will never learn.

Fear of what others think or retribution or blame or criticism collectively act as a deep freeze on innovation and a willingness to step outside convention to break new ground. Failure is good and to be embraced as a teaching moment. It’s when you’re most open to insight and epiphany on how to improve. Admitting failure is a laudable character trait and provides the key to learning from mistakes or errors in judgement.

When I started Emergent it was on the back of an idea: I believed the entire food, beverage industry was standing on the edge of a sea change. People had connected the dots between what they ingest and the quality of their lives. The industry however was focused on features and benefits rather than devotion to health and wellness. This was the first business I started based on strategic insight (idea) rather than a large anchor client (cash flow). An adventure in bootstrapping. I thought the CPG world would beat a path to Emergent’s door.

In a word, no. Others I knew said “too niche, too focused, too anchored to an outlier idea.” It took years for the traction to begin to happen. It was no rocket sled – a humbling period of reflection and self-doubt. Every ounce of persistence would be required to march forward.

Say yes to risk and failure. You’ll sleep better for it. You’ll refine your understanding with it, evolve and improve.

Attend the Church of the Consumer

We love to talk about value creation in marketing. What value can there be in creation without putting the consumer at the center of this calling? Too many times companies turn inward, planning around their own self-interests, viewing the customer as a strict transactional outcome of sales and marketing. The blindness this causes is the reason why so many businesses eventually stall or never grow faster than the category in which they reside.

The consumer is not a walking wallet, they are our first priority. It is their needs and interests we are on the planet to serve. Your passion and willingness to invent on their behalf must be informed by deep understanding of their concerns, interests, needs, wants and desires.

  • To do this effectively requires investing time and resources in consumer anthropology
  • Your business model is constructed around your users and their needs
  • You instinctively look for ways to improve their lives
  • You care about their personal success and wellbeing
  • Your team sees this consumer-centric mission with clarity and dedication

This is much harder to do than it sounds. The pull of self-interest is very strong.

Study leads to epiphany

Great ideas don’t fall from the sky. Instead they are an outcome of examination, study, listening, observing, researching and absorbing. If you are open to change, wanting to test the limits and ready to take the required risks associated with innovating, then you’ll find a bigger picture forming.

Your passion and convictions must activate to bring others along on the journey. Yes, there will be attempts to kill new ideas along the way. There will be naysayers and resistance. However the strength of your story will hold sway.

Ideas are fragile. Keep the faith.

2021 is here, now is the time

When opportunities for strategic leaps move from concept to reality, you will have the opportunity to create momentum. This is what we all live for, strive to do and with it comes knowledge of our impact on people’s lives and in turn the growth of the business.

If you find this kind of thinking refreshing or inspiring, and want to bounce ideas off like-minded experts, use this link to open an informal conversation about your concept. We can help you build and refine, and bring a strategic game plan to life.

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.

Substance overtakes stunts

Substance Over Stunt: The new era of marketing

October 7th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Growth, Higher Purpose, Insight, Integrated Communications, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Substance Over Stunt: The new era of marketing”

Help not hype defines the path to engagement victory

In 2008 Johnsonville Sausage famously conducted the classic publicity stunt of outsized proportions, building a giant grill on north Michigan Avenue in Chicago, with plans to drop an equally giant brat (from a crane) on the grill to celebrate the official start of BBQ season. I saw it, my office was two blocks away. Does this qualify as different? Yes. Was it super-sized in hopes of adding drama? Yes. Was the intention to create the requisite “Buzz” in the media? Yes.

Did it fulfill its objective? I think not. Media were critical rather than faithful reporters of the intended message. The stunt was a less effective vehicle for the very reason people were increasingly interested in substance over spectacle. The event was in some ways a marker of the end of the stunt as a path to PR glory, and perhaps a harbinger of change as consumer and media interest in the more blatant forms of brand self-promotion was shifting. Aside from a few mishaps on delivery drop of said brat to grill, it was inevitably a shameless publicity maneuver.

A moment of honest reflection: during the golden era of stunt strategy, we leveraged a summertime event called Molson Chiller Beach Party in Miami for client Molson Beer. We put 10 tons of snow on Miami Beach in July, positioning a TV satellite truck on the sand to capture images of what appeared to be a snow descending on Miami Beach. Video scenes of men and women making snowmen and snow angels on the beach were edited in real time for a package we titled Freak Snowstorm in Miami. Satellited to TV stations around the country, the video story aired in more than 100 markets that day.

The real goal, though, wasn’t just simple brand awareness. We were creating a compelling, powerful story for beer distributors to demonstrate that the Molson brand was relevant and resonant in a market far from their core volume territory in nine cities close to the Canadian border. Our video drama added to the sales team presentation securing a larger Molson share and investment in their import beer programs. That was then. Now, the path to consumer engagement has changed.

Substance overtakes hoopla

The world of effective marketing has advanced. People have changed, which demands that marketing best practices advance with them. At one time, how brands typically engaged with consumers was focused on interruption, hyperbole, entertainment, assertions and at times, crazy stunts in a belief that any publicity was good publicity. Buzz was seen as a component of hype, driven often by some form of outrageous display.

Marketing that works effectively is more successful now when it coalesces on authentic help for the consumer over media hype. People lead busy and complex lives. What they need is guidance, help, advice, coaching, training, ideas, support and empowerment. Your brand’s relevance to them is connected to how you become a useful and valued partner on their life journey.

If this sounds like a more mature form of relationship, I think you would be right. We have evolved and improved in that respect – more thoughtful and interested in overcoming our problems and challenges than being influenced by headlines falling from ‘the largest, biggest, tallest______________.”

Utility = valuable-ness

Real engagement is a form of acknowledged partnership. People grant you their precious and valuable attention in return for something that makes them better. This quid pro quo is an exchange founded in reciprocity and constructed on help or community-building that satisfies our inner need to tell the world around us what we stand for, what we care how about, what our values and beliefs say about us.

A brand that has trimmed its audience definition and scope to a narrower segment of true, committed fans has a shot at mattering. This approach works because in most product categories that escape the debilitating rust of commodity sold on price, a majority of the sales and profit is delivered by a smaller cohort of engaged enthusiasts. Some examples:

  • Kitchen commanders
  • Pet lifestyle buffs
  • Outdoor adventure seekers
  • Health and wellness advocates
  • Exercise aficionados
  • Fashionistas

You get the idea. Call them geeks or fans or ambassadors, the unifying characteristic is their innate interest in and devotion to these lifestyle associations. Your goal is to get close, real close to who they are and what they care about. Your ability to walk in their shoes and operate in service of their interests is the grist for content marketing that works.

Your brand voice is optimized when you separate the help from hype, the social proof from brand assertion, earnest helpful guidance from brand self-promotion. Only then, can your brand be perceived as and appreciated for contributing in real ways to the consumer’s journey. Think about it:  what is media hype but a disposable form of awareness with no shelf life. It’s there and then gone. What has been achieved? A moment of ‘I saw you’?

  • Your desire for buzz or recognition or mention is better served by enabling and contributing to the things your best users care about.

Perhaps the most famous stunt of all time was the Stratos Jump by Red Bull when Felix Baumgartner launched himself from a helium balloon 124,000 feet above earth, televised to more than 8 million viewers many of whom might remember the stunt – but not the advertiser or product. Was the reported $65 million cost worth it? If you’re selling a product that tastes like melted gummy bears to an adventure-seeking consumer, maybe.

For the rest of us, meeting the heart and mind of your customer in authentic ways that contributes measurably to their quality of life is another form of ‘adventure’ – but decidedly more relevant and valued than simple awareness.

If you find yourself asking questions about how to build buzz, we can help you answer that objective with insight and ideas that connect at a human level. Use this link and let’s start a helpful and hype-free conversation.

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.

Gen Z Activism

Food Purchases Are Now a Signal

September 21st, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, engagement, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight 0 comments on “Food Purchases Are Now a Signal”

What we buy is a waving statement of belief

Once upon a time food was food. Might be indulgent food or healthy food, but its reason for being resided somewhere between enjoyment, sustenance or weight management. The world around us has shifted once again as cultural influences work to redefine the paradigm of what food purchases are really about.

The implications here for food and beverage marketing cannot be understated: you might agree relevance to consumer interests is paramount to communication effectiveness. Thus, the impact of cultural upheaval manifesting in consumers’ lives is critically important to strategy and gaining a meaningful connection with people.

Food purchase is a cultural expression of _____________.

In 2019 Deloitte published the results of a consumer survey that revealed an emerging trend in brand preference: people believe brands have a greater responsibility to act on purposeful issues. Concerns such as how companies treat employees, impact on the environment and the communities where they operate surfaced as emerging drivers of brand preference.

This followed another Deloitte study conducted in collaboration with the Food Marketing Institute (recently re-branded as The Food Industry Association), that showed for the first time in modern history the standard food and beverage purchase motivations of taste, price and convenience were being eclipsed by interest in transparency, health and wellness, visibility to the supply chain and food safety.

What’s happening is the socialization of food and its purchase.

Increasingly, food brand selection and purchase is a telegraph of personal values and beliefs. You might be wondering, what’s driving these changes. In the U.S. there are now over 21,000 food centric blogs, an astounding bit of evidence of how food culture has risen to lifestyle prominence in the lives of most people.

  • Perhaps this was inevitable as consumers across all generational cohorts connected the dots between the quality of the food they consume and the quality of their lives. What is happening now is nothing short of revolutionary as the purpose of food acquires an even higher and symbolic purpose.

Food has always been important but now gains influence beyond consumption. People are emotional creatures and food is an emotional category that plays directly to human senses. Now, that significance is acquiring a new set of values that extends way past the physical aspects of the products’ use and roles in daily diet.

Wildfires and Green New Deal

When I was 16 my priorities were centered on how to go about buying a car and in doing so seal the path to my independence. Recently my 14-year old daughter announced her intentions to take assets from her babysitting earnings and donate them to organizations addressing hunger and racial inequality. Cultural and value changes reveal a different and more enlightened point of view on what matters. In turn, it is vital for brands and businesses to gain understanding on ‘mattering’ at a time when attitudes and importantly priorities are being reframed.

Generation Z is coming of age as an activist population focused on changing the way we live to take better care of the world around us. If you pay attention you hear the voices of concern rising around climate change and its rapidly building momentum to permanently alter the social and political landscape. Wildfires and super storms provide evidence that the way natural resources have been exploited has a serious downside. More specifically, how the food production, agricultural and energy industries are operating in service of convenience and consumption, and simultaneously exacting a horrible toll on the health of the planet and her inhabitants.

The Sunrise Movement and Green New Deal are being championed by the youngest generation. Their future quality of life may well depend on how fast changes can be created in the current systems that generate greenhouse gases fomenting weather related catastrophes, drought leading to fires, rising coastal water levels and the ongoing impact of melting polar ice caps.

Chief among the contributing threats to climate is the global food system and animal production in particular that collectively create more greenhouse gas than all worldwide transportation systems combined.

Generation Z now views purchase decisions as a path to creating a better world. In their view, if you’re not an active, visible part of the solution – your inaction is part of the problem.

“Power of the Purchase Order is Primal”

Errol Schweizer, producer of “The Checkout”, an industry trend watcher podcast, did a recent interview with Kevin Coupe’s Morning Newsbeat e-newsletter. Kevin asked, considering these societal changes on the horizon, what’s the one thing food retailers can do to build their relevance and value?

“Increase the amount of organic and regeneratively produced products that you sell. The organic trade association recently released a whitepaper that provided scientific proof organic agriculture can help mitigate the impact of climate change,” said Schweizer. He states this type of food production helps sequester carbon, reduces use of fossil fuels while also producing more nutrient dense food.

His call to action: keep growing your organic business. As a retailer you can do this, and it’s relevant to what people want anyway. He exhorts the retail purchase order can be a powerful instrument in helping answer the need for change. The cultural manifestations of food socialization are significant and will impact how retail strategy and brand building are conducted.

Food as a tool of self-definition

(The New) Brand Democracy:

I believe brands can be a powerful force for change.

I expect them to represent me and solve societal problems.

My wallet is my vote.

Increasingly, meaning is unearthed in consumption. Said another way, the food people choose is an advertisement of who they want to be and what they believe in. When purchases become a billboard for values, the marketing, product creation and innovation decisions need to reflect this insight.

Is it possible we are nearing an era when determining the contribution to greenhouse gas in production will matter as much as ingredient quality and nutrient density? The answer here is ‘yes’ and it’s coming more rapidly than previous developments such as the demand for greater transparency.

At Emergent, we suggest that successfully navigating these waters of change in human behavior can be best accomplished by brands and retailers who come to work bearing a soul – one that governs their actions and informs decisions.

When consumers see purchases as a path to creating a better world, it should play out in the brand voice, content marketing strategy and all that sits underneath.

Guidance to improved relevance in a time of cultural shift:

  • Listening is important and should be formalized as a consistent undertaking to understand the development of emerging attitudes and opinions that impact how consumers see the role of brands in their lives.
  • Building a higher purpose platform for the brand and business is now table stakes to continued relevance and connection with your users.
  • Identify specific actions your business can take to address climate change including how your supply chains operate and the standards and certifications of performance you require for compliance.
  • How can your brand contribute to the cultural conversation? What needs are you uniquely positioned to address?
  • Tell your users what you’re doing an engage them in a dialogue on their views and opinions.
  • Recognize that food is a tool of self-definition and a symbol to others of what your users think is important. How does this influence your messaging and social media strategies?

If you find this development challenging and want to consider a fresh approach, please use this link and let’s start a conversation about your questions and interests.

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.

Brands serve as expert advisors on the consumer's journey

Brands are not products, they are stories well told

September 8th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Brands are not products, they are stories well told”

Here is how to tell them powerfully, persuasively

Brands and businesses are increasingly challenged by shifts and changes in consumer behavior that make it harder than ever to win in the marketplace based on perceived technical advantage, ingredient strengths or special formulation “sauce” as a reason to believe.

Moreover, brand content creation is being held captive by outmoded strategies built on feature and benefit selling that no longer holds sway with consumers who are in a position to ignore it. The path to authentic engagement is now found through hyper relevance to consumer interests, concerns and passions.

What remains most challenging about this authentic engagement insight is the conventional, outmoded marketing paradigm stands as a barrier to securing the needed relevance. The root trouble begins with how brand audiences are defined, in many instances painted with a broad brush that declares everyone is a prospect between a certain age range and household income level. This kind of thinking, which leads to “all things to all people” communications strategies, is a recipe for ignorable and wasted marketing spending.

We have seen this time and time again: when the consumer cohort the brand wishes to serve is narrowed considerably to the audience most likely to become enthusiastic fans and followers based on lifestyle considerations and priorities, the door is opened to almost magical opportunities for connection at an emotional level. Precisely where the brand needs to be by the way, for the very reason human beings are emotional and not rationally-driven creatures.

Success begins with a tighter, more focused and thus stronger go-to-market strategy

When we first were engaged by Sargento Foods, the brand behaved in the marketplace as a commodity cheese player in a commoditized category. Dairy aisle cheese share leader was the store brand and the primary national brand participants, Kraft and Sargento, were in constant motion to manage block cheese price costs to the gap between national brand and private label retail pricing. This was a recipe over time for static share conditions and fluctuating margin performance. For the consumer cheese was cheese was cheese unless provided with another relevant reason to prefer one brand over another.

The cycle could only be broken by first redefining the target audience. Rather than all things to all people, insight and segmentation research uncovered a cohort of the dairy aisle cheese-buying consumer who was all about cooking, using quality ingredients, inspired by chefs, consumers of food TV programming, bought cookbooks, loved being in the kitchen and cared about the food adventure they put on the dinner table.

What if Sargento worked to serve their interests and needs, focusing on the story that had to be created around culinary inspiration, love of food, taste, quality and cooking? This led to premiumization of the entire business, along with new products called Artisan Blends that combined their classic varieties with high quality cheese created by artisan producers, a new premium pricing strategy at retail and importantly, an entirely new story to tell.

It was a bold move. It was decisive. It was focused. It fed a platform of more compelling brand storytelling because it was first and foremost about this consumer segment’s love of food, passion in the kitchen and romance around taste and flavor. This is different than publishing a recipe for lasagna or the next round of ‘buy one get one.’

The outcome was compelling and transformational for the company. Today Sargento is a leader in their category and the move to snack products through the Balanced Breaks line has been a phenomenal success.

Proof that even a larger CPG brand can find a new reason to be and add deeper meaning by starting with a new picture of whom they wish to serve. Then, relentlessly driving on that insight to be hyper relevant to a consumer who is actually paying attention.

Do you know what the deeply engaged consumer values?

The road to engagement is paved with insight and understanding into the hearts, minds and lives of those you wish to serve.

Imagine the treasure trove of understanding the Clif Bar company amassed as they became an early mover in higher purpose brand building, aligning their business with outdoor adventure experiences and cycling. They understood this human because they lived and breathed the same air, participated in the same adventures, and remained steadfast in mirroring the ethos and beliefs of people who were driven to live this way, on a mountain trail on a mountain bike.

Whole Foods was an early player in the organic movement, and then successfully made a pivot to embrace culinary inspiration and the transition to higher quality, fresh food experiences. In doing so they invested heavily in content creation around creativity and inspiration in the kitchen, catering to the lifestyle aspirations of home cooks who found creativity at the stove to be a purposeful and fulfilling avocation.

  • They were a mirror of what people who care about food and love to cook are concerned about. Quality of ingredients is a big deal, and so the videos they created took customers to the farm to meet the grower of fresh strawberries. It was powerful for the very reason it helped these shoppers feel good and wise and confident and connected to the earth and what they purchased earlier that day.

Ironically, when Whole Foods began to dilute this investment and commitment to relevant culinary storytelling, the company balance sheet slid at the very time other banners were closing the gap on store experience, and opened vulnerability to acquisition. We all know what happened there.

Where’s the magic?

Here is your goal, and it’s a big one: content and storytelling that wins hearts and minds is always a story that is worth talking about. This is the incredible creative challenge best answered by master storytellers who know the construction of tales that draw people in, and the role of emotion, conflict, drama and resolution so vital to bringing people close.

This approach is more uncommon than you think. Yes, there’s a ton of brand created content published each and every day, and the vast majority of it is forgettable. Why does it miss the mark so frequently? The disconnect begins with the story. The path to real engagement isn’t paved with rational, logical, fact-based downloads on your product formulation superiority. It just isn’t emotionally moving and violates the number one rule of successful storytelling.

  • The consumer is always the hero of the story, not your product. The brand’s role is Yoda to the consumer’s Luke Skywalker – the wise and seasoned guide who helps the hero overcome their insecurities and lack of understanding, on their journey to mastery, bravery and success.

Rich material is found in what your users care about. This approach is unexpected and refreshing. It can become emotionally moving. It is, dare we say, how to be hyper relevant. You may be reading this and saying yeah but my business exists to sell our products or get people in the front door of our stores. To be sure, but how you get there has changed.

The greatest moment of transition to a new era of marketing success begins with embracing the counterintuitive understanding that your best move is to reflect user lifestyle needs and aspirations, feed their adventures, enable their passions and in doing so align your brand with who they want to become. This enlightened understanding of the authentic brand relationship leads to transformation in the consumer to brand relationship.

The remarkable story is built from WHY

People do not buy products, instead they buy the meaning that sits underneath. Today consumer purchases are largely symbolic gestures to signal to others what people value and what they think is important. This is the story they will tell others (their why). This matters to you because the holy grail of marketing is word of mouth and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is now amplified by social media channels that enable the sharing of consumer experiences.

The recipe for more compelling story telling is understanding:

  • Insight to how consumers see themselves
  • Knowing what they value
  • Their desire for deeper meaning and greater purpose in their lives
  • How they can acquire a feeling of belonging
  • Their goal to achieve a sense of distinction

We are doing business in the age of distinction

Category to category we continue to find in varying degrees a similar challenge: sameness.

Perhaps the best example of this is pet food, a business riding a wave of premiumization that has closely followed the rise of four-legged family members to furry “children” status. Of course, the one instrument to express the love and appreciation of the new-found value is in the quality of the food provided. Pet stores are chock full of emerging brands and some new larger players like Blue Buffalo who have successfully leveraged this ‘float all premium boats’ condition.

Having said that, the business is rife with similar, unremarkable messaging devoted to formulation superiority claims, the protein percentage wars, and assertions of improved nutrition. Walking the aisles in a pet food store is a living museum to sameness in presentation. So much so it is possible to lift language from one brand, apply it to the package of another and it still remains essentially true.

People are buying the story first and product second.

Imagine the pet brand that understands the importance of the relationship and bond between pet parent and pet, celebrating a pet-centric lifestyle – a phenomenon that is gaining momentum during the turmoil and emotional uncertainty of the pandemic. The ability of dogs and cats to favorably impact the health and wellness of their owners is a true thing. And a marketing opportunity waiting to happen!

Why is putting the wants and needs of consumers ahead of brand promotion so difficult to embrace?

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is coming to a realization that the herculean effort to build a fantastic product is now table stakes. Awesome product performance is a requirement and not necessarily the marketing secret sauce it may have been before. The secret sauce is now found in the hyper relevant, emotionally-satisfying story that reflects the aspirations of the consumer hero and their search for a better, happier life.

Tangible benefits for paying a premium price may be there, but the truth is the price and margin multiple are enabled by the story more than the ingredient or technology.

Here it is:

Great marketing builds a perceptual advantage for the very reason it completely respects how the customer feels when buying the premium solution.

If you need help thinking through how your brand and business goes to market in the era of consumer control, use this link and let’s start a conversation.

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

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

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