Posts in Insight

Building the Human Brand

Building a More Human Brand

October 19th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Building a More Human Brand”

Time to banish the old marketing playbook

Remember the good old days of command and control, interruption-style marketing and business development strategies? Consumers were viewed as “targets” to be persuaded through repetition and subtle manipulation of their emotions or pocketbook sensibilities.

Vestiges of this way of thinking remain handcuffed to far too many brands that continue pushing feature, benefit and price messages at consumers in both digital and analog channels. Thus, why engagement is increasingly hard to secure. Consumers have become serial avoiders of self-promotional brand outreach as a result. No one likes to be “sold.”

It’s time to stop, reconsider and move on to build more human-centric brands.

Think for a minute about the people you care about in your life. Your family, friends and colleagues. Those closest to you enjoy a special position of value and affection. You’re concerned about their welfare and wellbeing. You make time for them, cherish them and invest in their progress. In short, you care. You express love in words and deeds. You listen. You help. You support and respect them. Moreover, you don’t see those relationships as merely transactional.

Now think about your business behaviors and how customers are viewed and treated. Is it the same? You say well, we’re in business to sell our products. To be sure, but maybe the goal of share and volume glory follows a different path now. One that is built on a model of reciprocity that looks more and more like the valued relationships we have in real life.

Not ‘data points’, they’re human beings

What are the five things your customers want from you?

  1. Inspiration
  2. Advice
  3. Guidance
  4. Education
  5. Entertainment

We have moved from a product focus to content. Are you optimizing the brand communications arsenal for help over hype? Here are three observations that should be considered in developing human-led brand communication.

Utility over cleverness

This may be the toughest consideration of all when viewed through the lens of ad creative traditions. It has been the province of creatives in the agency game to be focused on translating a key product selling proposition into the artful headline or theme. The theory: engagement is achieved through artistic wordsmithing. An artful turn of phrase or catchy tagline is prized as an achievement on the road to being “intrusive” and therefore noticed in the vast sea of message overload.

Times have changed and while great copy is going to be a key driver of engagement, the character and content of the communication is better served through its usefulness rather than pure cleverness alone. Attention is hard to secure. The path to gaining consumer participation is better aided by providing relevant value. That means the message moves closer to serving the consumer’s role as hero of the brand story, in a narrative that is helpful and educational more than self-promotional. It’s about them not us.

Someone is better than everyone

The definition of sound strategy is making tough choices. When the intent is to be all things to all people, the outcome is mattering to no one. It is better to focus on someone rather than everyone. To do that requires sacrifice. It means you select an audience cohort closest to the center of your most ardent user base. Then zero in on what they want and care about. Prune the rest.

In our own experience this played out to great effect when former client Sargento cheese agreed to focus on a consumer segment called The Food Adventurer. This audience of cheese lovers and heavy users care deeply about the quality of ingredients they use. They love to cook, pay attention to culinary media. They are routinely engaged on topics and content that help advance their skills in the kitchen and culinary creativity. By focusing here, Sargento created an opportunity to matter to an engaged audience of food fans, rather than speaking to everyone  (usually defined as moms with kids) across the expanse of the commodity cheese marketplace.

Make a choice, narrow the focus to those who care and are therefore listening.

Inspirational beats transactional

There is a great temptation to assume if you aren’t hitting hard on the product features and benefits, then you’re not selling effectively. But the world has changed. Gaining attention isn’t a math problem of calculating media channels to frequency of message distribution. If the relationship economy is respected, then you understand that winning permission for a conversation depends on following a different set of rules.

  • Your brand voice is built around empathy and care for the passions, interests and concerns of your best customers. You understand that the role of the brand in this relationship is one of guide and coach. Your goal to help them overcome the barriers to their success and fulfillment.

Your brand becomes a source of encouragement and education. Sargento helps the home cook deliver on their passion for creativity in the kitchen. Boom – now we’re talking. Literally. Now we’re actually communicating rather than monologuing. The brand stops barking at people and begins to engage in their community and lifestyle in a useful, valuable way.

When you speak to those in your orbit that you care about, are you selling to them? Pushing self-serving messages at them? No instead you are genuinely listening and helping.

The enlightened brand building of our era begins with injecting humanity into the marketing plan by making consumers the center of it and deciding to earn a relationship based on valuable-ness.

The last word: “Every brand is now a B-corp” – Ana Andjelic, The Sociology of Business

We are in the midst of another evolutionary shift. Consumers care deeply about your values, mission and actions to address social issues like climate impact and sustainability. They care about the impact their buying decision has on the world around them. They have connected the dots between their purchases and a consequence. They want to identify and act on more sustainable choices.

You can help them do that. But be aware that substance and authenticity matter here. Your own sustainability readiness house needs to be in order before invoking solidarity with consumers on these concerns. Sustainability can’t be a message construct floating independently from policies and standards that address the company’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment. There should be clearly expressed targets and actions steps to mitigate those challenges.

Embracing sustainability is yet another way to put the brand “in league” with consumers on a culture imperative issue they care about and expect brands to be part of the solution.

All of this coalesces around one key point: when brands understand that customer relationships these days operate a lot like the kind we have with people we care about, then you understand how the brand should behave and engage in that setting. More empathy, guidance and coaching than promoting. It’s time for the more human brand.

If this guidance strikes a chord as you look towards strategic planning in the year ahead, then let’s start an informal conversation about your concerns and needs. Use this link and let’s talk.

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 are badges to be worn

4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth

September 23rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Category Design, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Product design, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth”

Advantages you can plan and design for

Food culture in America has dramatically shifted during the last 10 years. People favor premium quality, higher priced products that address modern dietary needs serving health, wellness and sustainability goals. Better food experiences, fresh ingredients, more sophisticated tastes and the brand sustainability symbolism that goes along with it help complete the mission and taste adventure. This is the preference paradigm where all innovations whether from legacy brand or new player must pay homage on the road to success.

  • Here are four key strategies that hold sway over your ability to succeed, to grow and gain share for food and beverage innovations.

We highlight these four distinctive growth strategies in part because they are passed over all too frequently. Eclipsed by the allure of instant scale, every-new-retail-door-is-a-good-door and ill-advised distribution moves that undercut the very brand value proposition that premium CPG solutions embody. This helps explain the high innovation failure rate or seemingly insurmountable plateaus where new emerging brands stall out, never getting a shot at the high volume homeruns of wider adoption downstream.

Want to assure your brand innovations are successful and not a casualty on the path to pantry and fridge domination? Then read on.

  1. Your product concept is the marketing lynchpin (watch out for the Special Occasion Trap)

Food retailers care about velocity and monitor it relentlessly. Marketers care about scale because velocity and scale together are the flags of a winning concept; thus, why growth nirvana for premium CPG success always begins with strategic product and category design. Your innovation goal is a product that naturally, intuitively fits with frequent if not daily consumption occasions and feeds high repeat purchase behavior. Retailers understand this and look for it.

Products that are intended for niche, episodic occasions are much harder to score scaling victory for the very reason they don’t lend themselves to velocity, high repeat purchase business imperatives. If fancy jams are your jam, be prepared for the embedded difficulties that come with slow turn categories or segments with a narrow, special interest fan base.

2. Public ‘display’ categories add symbolism romance to marketing

Food and beverage purchases these days are largely symbolic. People ‘wear’ their brands as a statement, a flag, a visible demonstration of what they value and what they wish to signal to the world around them about who they are.

You know this so can you plan for it, use it. How can you enable consumers to fly your symbolic brand flag? Does your premium brand innovation lend itself to public display occasions such as barbecues, parties, taken to the office or gym and consumed in a social setting? Brand iconography, symbolism and telegraphing of same can be deployed here to help your users display and vote their beliefs and values. Too often this opportunity gets overlooked.

3. Pack strategies can ignite new occasions

No doubt you’ve heard of price-pack architecture. There is a bit of CPG magic in this strategic growth solution. It helps you lean into new and different occasions while creating higher average retail price points (more cash and flow) with a perceived embedded consumer discount, and more facings (brand billboard) at shelf. Pack architecture projects open the door to migrating your users to new consumption occasions.

Amplify Brands’ Skinny Pop brand rode the pack architecture idea to fame and fortune by creating both smaller bags and larger pack sizes of their pound-able guilt-free popcorn. The move lifted average price points while leveraging new use occasions from school lunches to birthday parties. When you offer new packs the input costs are manageable while adding exponential growth on the income side and serving the usage occasion/velocity rule at the same time.

4. The slightly uncomfortable but immutable rule of upscale zip code distribution

There’s an old but wise saying: fish where the fish are. For premium priced food and beverage innovations the distribution strategy decisions you make will have an enormous impact on your ability to gain traction and scale the business. Where you do business matters especially in the early going.

Premium innovations are home to higher quality ingredients, real food-based formulations.  These brands reflect the lifestyle symbolism embraced by consumer cohorts who in reality control the fortunes and failures of new product fame or flame out.

What do we know: educated, high earning households congregate in upmarket neighborhoods. Trial for premium priced CPG innovations will always be better served in retail doors that exist to serve an upscale shopper base. These folks not only won’t flinch at your higher price point, they are also hunters of new premium innovations. Early trial fuels their social currency of being a word-of mouth warrior.

There was a time when Whole Foods owned the early trial zone for premium CPG innovations, but other banners have caught up in their premium offerings. Now it’s a zip code exercise where your decisions are more about the education levels of the communities you distribute in ahead of other considerations.

The guidance: not every new door is the right retail door. Controlled expansion plus patience are better for building your business rather than taking distribution wherever you can get it. EDLP retailers have a different model and a different shopper base driven more by price point than your quality ingredient, healthy lifestyle bona fides. Walmart is better for mass legacy brands for this reason.

  • Broader distribution and wider geographic expansion make sense when innovations become mainstream and lower income households begin to take them up. Going that route too early can create problems leading to profit-eroding price drops and even delisting if you’re not careful.

There are 40 metro areas in the U.S. where greater than 30% of the adult population has a Bachelor degree or higher. That’s a cohort of more than 65 million adults. Higher income zip codes within those metros are primed for premium CPG introductions. These higher income, higher educated households are tuned-in to the evolutionary changes going on in modern dietary preferences. They are listening to your narrative.

  • In sum, you will grow in geographic areas where large numbers of people attach their lifestyle symbolism to your brand and spread it in their social circles. You should be on shelf in the banners where the shopper population is experientially primed to look for you.

Don’t forget to consider University towns for the same reason. These can be enthusiastic communities for bold, dietary alterations and innovations. Young adults especially are early adopters and influential in making new dietary shifts.

Here is the premium CPG innovation recipe for success assuming the product design fits squarely in the frequent consumption arena.

  • Build visibility, awareness and discoverability in the right stores in the right zip codes.
  • Increase local household penetration.
  • Increase consumption rates among early-in users by adding consumption occasions.

If you have these challenges and strategic questions as you plan your innovations and launch strategies, use this link to start a conversation with us. We can help you create a roadmap to success and the brand narrative well told to go with it. We are new product launch specialists.


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.

Niche community marketing

The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here

August 31st, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Journey Map, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Insight, Social proof, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here”

Internet enables strategic shift to networks of influence

Forever and a day, brand and retail marketing centered on identifying key user targets, parsing user cohorts and unearthing insights to define their respective habits, preferences, passions, interests and behaviors. The goal – to refine brand relevance; make media decisions based on their demographics and psychographics; and craft creative messaging to reach these individuals.

But the world has changed (again) and now the path to consumer engagement must be calculated in the context of how and where people participate in communities that help them filter, read, decide and buy.

More than at any other time in modern marketing, products are more susceptible to trends than individual preferences. What do we now know? People are social creatures. The digital world we all live in enables and caters to their collective passions whether that be health and wellness, cooking creativity, love of wine and spirits, fashionable-ness or nurturing a pet-oriented lifestyle.

Communities form and prosper around shared interests.

The wisdom of a curated community

Neuroscience now helps us understand that behaviors are impacted by trends and popularity in user communities. People see community recognition and acceptance as validation that a product or a TV show must be good because ‘everybody’ is using or watching it. Call it fear of missing out or confidence in community consensus.

  • Old way of thinking: to scale your business go wide, cast a broad net and employ mass media as much as possible.
  • New way of thinking: look for networks of influence and go narrow to micro-communities that cater to niche tastes and shared values.

The Internet has operated as an endless digital enabler of nichemanship. Yet many brands remain wed to strategies focused on individuals and amassing eyeballs more so than immersion into the smaller communities where people participate and ‘belong.’

Questions you should be asking

In which communities do your users belong and participate?

Who are the sources of influence and prominent voices in that network?

What trends and interests are actively supported in the community?

How can you best enable users to contribute to the community?

It’s important to take note of shared tastes and values in these settings and to employ that insight in your messaging and outreach strategies.

What are your customers’ embedded interests? What issues, activities, hobbies do they care about and invest their time? If users have a specific interest area that lights their fire, chances are they belong to a community that focuses on it. People participate in influence networks that inform and feed their passions.

Look for the ‘religion’

Some might agree love of whiskey is a religion. There are beliefs and values associated with distilling traditions, still design, ingredients, casks and aging. There’s unique nomenclature and perceptions of what constitutes a good, better or best product. There are lifestyle associations, groups, communities, events and narrowcast media. There are also expert voices and sources of influence on what matters and new developments in product innovation.

For a brand there is more to be gained by studying the networks of influence than blind devotion to detailed persona descriptions of individual whiskey heavy users. Trends can drive leaps in market share, so it’s important to operate as a disciple in the community, embrace the religion of shared beliefs and identify the influence networks within them.

This concept of category religion can be applied in any number of high-engagement businesses where a fan base of ambassadors and evangelists reside.

The role of experts in outreach

Building credibility and trust are paramount these days. Deployment of subject matter experts, be they credentialed or citizen, matters greatly in verifying trends and authenticating community beliefs. When the brand sees its role as enabler, coach and guide to its users rather than product seller, deploying expert engagement in social channels can feed participation, conversation and sharing.

The foundation: your brand Higher Purpose

It is easier to anchor marketing in communities of shared values and beliefs when the brand ‘soul’ is well developed around a purpose that transcends commerce and self-promotion. If you want people to join your community as believers, then you have to give them something in which to believe.

Sadly more often than not, the brand’s ability to position itself in influence networks and community is diluted by operating in the ’three miles wide and a half inch deep‘ mode of transactional behavior. Purpose imbues your brand with a more meaningful voice and greater resonance because the community sees you are wearing your values like a well-tailored suit. 

Hard work ahead

Identifying and understanding networks of influence requires more study and asking different questions during insight research.  Conversation within these communities based on trends and values will help build brand relevance and value among those who care the most. Those are your best customers who over time will deliver greater volume and profit than the less loyal, less engaged users who come and go on deal.

If you think fresh thinking and guidance on influence strategies would benefit your marketing plans, use this link to start an informal 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.

Losing brand relevance when the consumer evolves

Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?

August 3rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Customer Experience, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, food experiences, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?”

What happens when the consumer moves on and the brand doesn’t.

The pace of change these days is unsettlingly quick. Pandemic-authored forms of disruption have come hard and fast, supplemented by equally measured swings in consumer behavior, priorities and preferences. The world around us is evolving. Needs are changing. Attitudes and interests are getting a makeover. The pace of marketplace shifts is accelerating.

  • We’ve entered an entirely new era of marketing challenges where consumers move more quickly than brands. This creates fractures in relevance and perceived value as businesses remain anchored to a legacy business model or said more simply, “how we’ve always done it.’

When the consumer’s wants and needs move to another location on the relevance chess board and the brand doesn’t move with them, what happens when the business suddenly finds itself at odds with its user base?

Changes now upon us –

  • Modern food culture has gained new levels of sophistication.
  • What food is and where it comes from is headed towards a bioengineered future.
  • Health and wellness needs are now dominant preference considerations.
  • Sustainability concerns have morphed to focus on climate impacts.
  • Shopping patterns and behaviors are now linked to extraordinary experiences.
  • Safety and security are simmering underneath a cauldron of uncertainty.
  • Brand trust deficits compound while also multiplying perceived risks on the path to purchase.

Challenges that result –

  • Your product portfolio hasn’t advanced to match the consumer’s evolving quality definition and expectation.
  • You’re not looking hard enough at innovation driven by climate outcomes and requiring advanced bioengineering.
  • Your products are not fully in sync with health and wellness lifestyle goals.
  • You are still narrowly focused on clean energy as the platform for sustainability solutions.
  • There’s nothing remarkable and entertaining about shopping your store.
  • You haven’t answered the bellwether safety and security issues swaying your users.
  • You haven’t placed trust creation at the core of your strategic marketing plan.

New brands are stepping into the gap

Where there’s a lingering need, others will step in to fulfill it. The world is ripe for entrepreneurs who wish to serve these evolving needs creating a business environment founded on new definitions of what scale is; value propositions that re-write the rule book on average cost of goods; and what people will pay for entirely new and higher standards of quality. Brand narratives are moving to focus on purpose and values while historic brand stories remain tethered to feature/benefit selling.

When people change, if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.

This summer I attended a backyard community barbecue where the entire menu was a trip into Korean culinary culture. It was mesmerizingly good, a welcome departure from hot dogs and burgers, and an eyeopener on flavor interplay between sweet (sauce) and sour (kimchi). The novel ingredients were off the charts delicious and created a learning moment.

The lesson: once people have experiences that alter their world order and concept of what’s important, tastes good or matters to their sense of values and beliefs, it’s nearly impossible to go back to the old behavioral patterns.

Food culture refinement is fueling change

You just know expectations on what great food is like are shifting when more sophisticated menus and unique global taste experiences start showing up at the corner neighborhood bar – gastropubs are getting Michelin stars!! We are awash in cooking competitions, chef authored packaged artisanal foods, fancy meal kits, and preoccupation with fresh local food ingredients that require preparation skills.

As people acquire knowledge and experience, perceptions shift. The lowly Brussel sprout, and veggies generally, enjoy a renaissance as cheffy preparations take this mini-cabbage (same species of plant – the brassica oleracea) sulphur bomb to new heights of flavor transformation with cured meat and high temp roasting to caramelize the leafy exterior. Cooking techniques magically alter a one-time musty vegetal eating experience with deeper umami flavors.  

The American palate is maturing alongside growing enthusiasm for more complex and layered food preparations and menus. Are food brands right there with them helping share the future of food, or mired in a legacy infrastructure of ultra-processed preparations that lean too heavily on fat, sugar and sodium to drive their appeal?

While popping open a bag of potato chips is still a common snack time ritual, people making their own chips from scratch isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. Food culture in America is rapidly evolving with raised expectations for tastes, flavor profiles and gustatory adventures.

When food experience is driven by ingredients

The basic legacy concept behind packaged food solutions is convenience, an effort to reduce or remove preparation from the equation. But what happens when millions of consumers get a taste of the very flavor layering techniques that make chefs the culinary superstars that they are? Lockdowns helped push people to their stoves. It’s hard to go back to standard boxed mac and cheese when you’ve enjoyed the outcome of informed cooking mixing a béchamel sauce with aged gouda and lardons to envelop an elbow noodle in indulgent magic.

It’s even harder to dismiss these developments when observing 12-year-old kids on FoodTV’s “Chopped Junior” show whip out a wine reduction sauce for pan roasted halibut in under five minutes? Suddenly an otherwise neutral, bland tasting fish rises to a new position in flavor town at the hands of a tween. Does this not signal a change in how we see food ideas, expectations on preparations, romance around the possibilities of better food experiences?

Ingredients take center stage in menus. Packaged products with reimagined ingredients not slavishly tied to what’s cheapest have this incredible competitive advantage of being able to tell their product creation story proudly. This is happening at a time when that’s exactly the kind of behind-the-curtain tale consumers want to know.

How to disrupt yourself

One sure-fire way to guide innovation, restaging, re-purposing and reimagining what your brand is on earth to accomplish – is putting the consumer at the center of your strategic planning and product development strategies.

  • This is harder to do than it sounds because businesses often reflexively sit in service of their legacy brick and mortar infrastructure, supply chain traditions and sensibilities around average retail pricing.

When the consumer is willing to pay more for demonstrable upgrades in quality, where is that coming from? It is the very knowledge they’ve acquired through elevated food experiences where they learn about the relationship between better ingredients and better taste – and often healthier food outcomes to boot. The added spend equals sufficient added value.

Every food and beverage brand should be led by food culture anthropologists, scanning for the sea changes at a time when shifts are occurring more rapidly. We’ve reached a point where the consumer will inevitably move on while the brand plays catch-up or suffers relevance declines.

  • When values change and the consumer wants unique, customized higher quality food experiences, you don’t want to find yourself at odds where you end up fighting them to stay put. Sure enough, a new brand will hit the radar to answer their call for quality innovation.

If you want to stay ahead of developing trends, be sure to register here for the Emerging Trends Report. If you’d like to discuss how your brand and business might evolve to stay ahead of food culture changes, use this link to say hello and invite an informal 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.

Honesty about what's on offer is vital to trust

Nothing is More Important to Brand Trust Than Honesty, Integrity

July 15th, 2021 Posted by brand messaging, Brand trust, Insight, media relations, Navigation, Public Relations, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Nothing is More Important to Brand Trust Than Honesty, Integrity”

Your brand value lives in equal proportion to its transparency

Sadly, we report today that a beloved brand in the meat industry, Belcampo is mired in scandal over a shocking revelation that this paragon of sustainably-raised livestock finds itself caught in a web of deceit now exposed for all to see.

Belcampo was in many respects a beautifully, artfully created story of ethics, values and transparency that promised a better way to raise beef, wrapped in an aura of authenticity and deeper meaning. Emergent, so enamored with the brand virtues we saw unfold, reached out a number of times a few years ago to express our interest in helping build their brand. To no avail, but we retained such deep respect for how the vertical integration of their farm-to-door story was assembled with such skill and emotional resonance.

Now a whistle-bearing employee in Belcampo’s Santa Monica, CA retail store has blown the doors open to reveal in a see-it-with-your-own-eyes Instagram video that Belcampo had been deceiving customers. They were selling beef supplied by general meat counter quality distributors that was not organic, not grass-fed, and importantly not sourced from Belcampo’s ranch near Mt. Shasta. The employee states his apology for having lied to customers for two and a half years so he could keep his job.

Belcampo’s high prices reflects its origin story and so the deception was not only of product quality but overcharging for same. The video, complete with scanning labeled cases in the meat locker was unshakeable in its revelation. The company’s response was an amalgam of middling apology, claims of ignorance, attempts to minimize, and then downplay what is a fracture in the brand reputation.

Belcampo would be well-advised to end the spin and instead lean into 100% transparency no matter how painful that might be.

Honesty and Integrity are Immutable Laws

What do we have in our hands at the end of the day but trust granted by people who believe what brands say, and who endeavor to make decisions on the veracity of the brand’s stated claims. Brand trust has been in decline for decades and it is incidents like this that serve to reinforce the “I told you so” of why consumers find it difficult to accept the assertions of commitment or values proffered by businesses.

When profit and self-interest overtake the priority to operate in service of the customer’s welfare and wellbeing, brand reputations can be squandered. All of the years of story and build on a masterful idea at Belcampo, impugned in a most surgical way by someone looking to end the guilt.

Now is the time to renew our vows, to recalibrate and reconsider the respectfulness we grant to hold consumer relationships dear. All of us, all brands live in glass houses. Anything that can be known, will be known. Thus the immutable laws of how brands operate should be held steadfast even when the P&L is on fire during times of trouble such as the Pandemic.

For commodities like meat or fish or anything else sold fresh, this is especially true. Trust is held by the seller to convey that what is on offer is genuine. Of course, the higher the pedestal on which a brand sits, the steeper the fall should the rules of truthful engagement be violated.

The concept of enforced trust – Blockchain

For years now we’ve been reporting periodically on Blockchain technology as an enormous opportunity for brands to author a new chapter in brand trust, forever changing the path to market from farm to fork.

Blockchain’s great promise is an algorithm-based system that through the use of sensors and monitors and digital ledgers can authenticate every claim made by a brand back to the ranch or soil. It irrevocably marks the details of what a product is, how it is raised or farmed, when it was harvested, what happened during processing and transport – all the way to the store or restaurant.

The beauty of this technology is it cannot be manipulated by people along the path. Instead, it serves as a form of enforced trust that guarantees the truth from beginning to end sale. Imagine what it would be like to tell a story like that. For the retailer or restaurant, you know confidently what happened on the path from farm to back door on handling, temperatures and length of time. If it’s grass fed and grass finished Angus beef, you will know it with certainty.

We hope this technology will someday be widely adopted. As marketers we can see the powerful stories that can be created around it that will change the relationship consumers have with brands. It is inspiring in many ways. If we were advising Belcampo, it would be to get the Blockchain team in as soon as possible.

We can only hope.

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.

Customer experience impacts brand preference

Wondering what the #1 Priority is for Brand Selection?

July 7th, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Experience, Insight, Personalization 0 comments on “Wondering what the #1 Priority is for Brand Selection?”

International survey confirms path to brand preference decision

Where should you place your bets for growth? Is it optimal product technology or top-of-mind brand awareness? While these issues remain important, they are not the number one driver of brand choice and preference according to a recent Ipsos study of 8,000 consumers in the U.S., UK, France and Germany. Read on for the reveal.

The study exposes a significant strategic weakness

The Ipsos report laid bare a decided absence of customer-centrism in how businesses operate. For all the sermonizing about the importance of consumers to brands and business growth, it is interesting that so few know the real details of their customer’s lifestyle needs, wants, aspirations and behaviors. This insight is required to build deeper brand relevance and personalization, two components of optimal strategy that surfaced from the survey conclusions.

It appears that CPG businesses, especially legacy brands, are constructed primarily around a focused model that is systemically preoccupied with product development, operations, manufacturing, distribution infrastructure, supply chain, sales/marketing and cost management of same. Appears it may be tough for an older dog to learn new tricks.

  • “Customer first” is a relatively new trend in business management, seen more often in digitally-native brands where the entire proposition was invented on the back of laser-focused consumer relevance and ongoing interactive conversation and experimentation.

Further it is more difficult for marketing to connect and engage without heartbeat-level insight into those you wish to sell to – their lives and lifestyles. Relevance in brand communication is nourished by an uncanny sense of what matters to the user’s personal aspirations and needs. “You get me” and “you help me to ________” are ultimately more important in consumer-brand relationship construction than an awesome product, which is now table-stakes on the list of consumer expectations.

Here’s where to invest if sustainable growth is a priority for you and your organization:

The survey confirmed customer experience is the number one motivator of brand selection!

  • 77% of consumers choose a brand based on positive experience.
  • 64% will avoid a brand based on a bad experience.
  • Women (66%), Millennials (70%) and GenZ (68%) are most likely to head for the exits after a bad experience.

In fact, brand switching starts to gain traction after just one bad experience. Moreover, negative experiences and unresolved issues are also catalysts for dissatisfied word-of-mouth and social channel sharing.

  • Interestingly, the fastest growing consumer cohort now is 55+ and also the most ignored, given historic brand preoccupation with wooing younger audiences. That’s leaving big business on the table!

Here’s some added texture on the survey findings

  • Consumers do research ahead of a purchase, so anticipation is higher right out of the gate.
  • They expect to receive a seamless, friction-free and positive experience with your brand.
  • Brand recognition and stellar product technology is important but not the decider.
  • Customer experience is the tipping point on brand selection decisions.
  • Failure to understand customer needs is the critical, pivotal Achilles’ heel.

U.S. consumers, especially, are looking for personalization and real-time responsiveness on their questions including chat options with a live agent not a bot. In fact, more than 40% of consumers want personalized solutions based on a granular understanding of their interests, buying behaviors, demographics and psychographics.

Retail everywhere

The study demonstrates the incredibly important opportunity brands have to add value at all touchpoints along the path to purchase, whether online or at the store. For consumers, the channel is irrelevant with respect to expectations. They believe it should be friction free, simple and helpful no matter where they purchase.

  • What’s often missing is an embedded view that customer needs and wants come first rather than the company serving its own operational quirks or self-protective policies.

With consumer /user experience being a pivotal moment on the path to purchase and repurchase, it only stands to reason it must be served with skill and intuitive judgment on addressing the customer’s wants. Thus ongoing, always-on investment in consumer insight is a required commitment to make all of this work successfully for sustainable brand growth.

If you’re looking for deeper insight and fresh strategic thinking on the path to improved consumer experience, use this link to start an informal conversation.

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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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