Posts in Marketing Strategy

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.

Consumers work to avoid risk in all of their purchase decisions

Marketing Effectiveness Depends on Respect for Human Behavior

August 20th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, Social media, Transparency 0 comments on “Marketing Effectiveness Depends on Respect for Human Behavior”

Three ways to overcome marketing’s biggest challenge: risk avoidance

For many years marketing communication was not sufficiently informed by behavioral psychology and a deep understanding of how humans prefer one product or retailer over another. Brand campaigns were hit and miss, sometimes landing on the right note or idea and in other instances failing to create any real engagement. Do you know with 100 percent confidence if your brand communication is wired properly for human effectiveness? Read on.

What lies at the foundation of disconnects and misfires?

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of my former employer Ogilvy & Mather said it best in his precedent-setting book on the subject, Alchemy: “It is thinking without thinking that we are thinking.” Every human is hardwired to dodge perceived risk. Our purchase behaviors are 100 percent driven by trying to avoid making a bad decision. As Sutherland describes so accurately, “a 1 percent chance of nightmare dwarfs a 99 percent chance of a 5 percent gain.”

And perhaps most important, it is the sub-conscious side of the human brain that informs these decisions and actions, not the rational and learning side that is frankly, lazy, and defaults to the far smarter area of the brain that is operating at greater capacity below our conscious awareness.

More than a few brand minders think marketing effectiveness is resolved by providing logical, fact-based evidence and arguments for why a product or service is the best choice. It is, afterall, a convenient way to answer the company desire to self-promote new innovations and technologies.  Yet again, humanity steps in to deny those assumptions for the very reason people are not analytical, fact-driven decision-making machines. Complicated messaging that taxes the consumer brain remains an unwitting invitation to tuning out entirely. This kind of outreach is directed to the learning area of our mind that reflexively seeks to avoid burning mental calories and, thus, simply ignores it.

  • Imagine for a moment if you could fully dial in the psychological keys to engagement and position your marketing communication correctly to respect what we now know about how people behave and will continue to behave until the end of time.

So powerful is the motivation to avoid unpleasant surprises that people resort to a variety of risk-mitigating behaviors on the path to purchase.

The Power of Uncertainty

At this point you may observe in stark relief why it is so important to access the knowledge and skills of strategic and creative craftspeople to build your brand story. Ironically the logical, rational argument is often the least effective. Powerful communication does not always follow the linear path of a + b = c. While Emergent might describe itself as a marketing communications firm, in reality we are Behavioral Messaging Architects.

  • Wine tastes better when poured from a heavier bottle.
  • Pain relievers are more effective when people believe they are expensive.
  • Anything in scarce supply immediately becomes more desirable.

We live in an uncertain world. At any given time there is limited trustworthy information available to people. Yet consumers crave the illusion of certainty and so are uniquely drawn to signals of honest intent. This works effectively because it lowers the chance of a purchase decision being disappointing.

Humans are famous for claiming to be rational thinkers when in reality their actions and decisions are influenced through perceptions, emotional cues, and visual signals of trust and integrity. In our daily vigil to avoid unpleasant surprises people resort to cues that help resolve their requirement for certainty.

  • The real function of earned media strategy is risk mitigation. When products are vetted in credible examination by third-parties, people believe the claims are verified through an independent source. Not so much the words as the source, context and environment in which the words appear.
  • Even more important is social proof and word of mouth for the very reason that people believe other people before they accept the assertions and claims made by a business. More on this later.
  • Wisdom of crowds is simply that. If a product is perceived to be popular and used satisfactorily by many then likely it won’t be terrible.

Why has transparency surged as a viable path to better brand relationships? Because at its core, the act of being transparent is a demonstrable, visible move to embrace honesty and thus remove risk. Transparency has real leverage attached to it because it helps solve the uncertainty faced by consumers each and every day.

We did this to great effect for Champion Petfoods (makers of Orijen and ACANA brands), creating the pet food industry’s first Transparency Council as a platform to build independent assessments of truth and honesty about how Champion made their pet food and sourced their ingredients. Important here was the symbolism and trust signal created by the Council’s very existence and a regular calendar of content produced that leaned heavily into validating through observation what Champion promises. It was a bold move at the right time.

Overcoming DNA-embedded risk avoidance

If risk perception stands between your brand and its future growth prospects, it only makes sense to work hard at mitigating it. It’s important to note here that rational arguments aren’t going to succeed. Signals of honest intent and credible voices however can be enormously effective.

Let’s begin by unwrapping the two secrets to effective messaging:

First, people do not buy things, they purchase meaning and context. What are you giving them that imbues your brand with a higher purpose and thus a purchase takes on greater meaning as a visible symbol of their values and beliefs?

Second, the hero of your storytelling isn’t the brand. It is the consumer; their wants, needs, passions, concerns and desires, with the brand positioned as coach and expert advisor on their life journey. Don’t compete with the consumer for the hero role! Said another way, talk about them more than yourself.

Three ways to overcome risk

1. Perhaps most important is understanding the end goal is cultivating trustworthiness. How can your company and brand humanize itself and mirror the very best qualities people look for in those they implicitly trust?

Those qualities include:

Empathy

Care

Responsiveness

Unselfishness

Openness

Truthfulness

Being strong enough to admit mistakes

Actions speak much louder than words, so the question here is how does the company operationalize and behave in a manner that respects these principles and assures they are held in high regard by employees.

2. Enlisting the voices of outside, independent, objective observers and experts to validate your promises and claims. This may sound like an analytical approach, but the devil is in the details of how this is done. The symbolism of allowing others to report is a significant move. What is reported on matters – your responsiveness, humanity, caring, truth-telling and unselfish acts are far more persuasive than your technology, recipe, formulation and production prowess.

Embedding a higher purpose in how the company operates and its reason for being will go a long way to informing this approach fully and successfully. You can read about Harnessing the Power of Purpose in greater detail here.

3.  Social proof and user-generated content (UGC) are the twin social media strategies that work to take risk out and replace it with believable evidence of performance and satisfaction. Trust in brands and corporations have been in decline for years.

This is why social channel strategy and encouraging user-generated content is so vital on the path to risk abatement. The honest, unscripted accounts of experiences and outcomes from real people are testament to what you want others to believe about the benefits of using your product or shopping your store.

When Emergent goes to work on creating a messaging platform for a client brand, we focus on purpose, cause, context, deeper meaning, emotion and effect. We look for visual signals that flag honest intent for the very reason we know these characteristics and words are more powerful than fact-based stories.

It is difficult to accept that humans are not rational and logical players in your marketplace. However, once this is understood and embraced, a whole new world of repeatable effectiveness is ushered into the marketing plan for the very reason it is built on real respect for the human we wish to serve.

If you would like to discuss in greater detail how this applies to your brand or store, 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.

Raley's food retail innovation in Truckee, CA

Imagine a Grocery Store Built on Higher Purpose

August 13th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, food experiences, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Imagine a Grocery Store Built on Higher Purpose”

Food Retail Innovation Now in Truckee, CA

Raley’s, the family-owned Sacramento-based supermarket company, recently launched a new grocery store concept they envision as a model of how food retail should evolve to build consumer relevance. Located in picturesque Truckee, California, just outside Lake Tahoe, the trading area is populated with families devoted to an active, outdoor lifestyle.

Raley’s designed the store concept with Truckee’s active families in mind – visualizing a supermarket focused entirely on healthy living. The Raley’s O-N-E Market banner (Organics, Nutrition, Education) is a four-walled, 36,000 square foot better-for-you food discovery zone. Designed for people who understand there may be a direct link between what you eat and the quality of your life, the concept mirrors their desire to seek out better choices, explore a more mindful selection of products, and learn about improved nutrition. Remarkably, it is a food store that embodies owner Michael Teel’s higher purpose mantra to “change the way the world eats one plate at a time.”

“We have been on a journey for health and wellness, and Raley’s O-N-E Market is the next step in our company’s transformation,” said Chelsea Minor, Raley’s Corporate Director of Public Affairs. “Raley’s O-N-E Market offers a highly-curated assortment of products that are organic where possible, wholesome, minimally processed, sustainably sourced and offers a stage for nutrition education. We want consumers to understand why these products were selected for our shelves and why they are better options for them and the community,” she said.

Who is really in charge, merchant or customer?

For the most part grocery stores operate in reverse from consumer lifestyle insight.  The shopping design and experience is most often built from the merchant’s business model intended to move boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity. Thus, in many ways, grocery stores are entirely recognize-able banner to banner with merchandise schemes and traffic flow patterns that follow a commoditized approach to assortment and shopping experience.

Which begs the question: what if a store format is re-imagined as a reflection of the lifestyle interests of its core customers, instead of the other way around? “The biggest differentiator is our product mix. We emphasize foods ‘free from’ artificial ingredients, colors, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats and oils and more. We source organic where possible – in produce over 60% of the department is organic to meet consistently high standards for health, nutrition and sustainability,” reports Minor.

As evidence of that commitment Minor says shoppers will not find any conventional soft drink products inside the store. Indeed, sugar awareness is a priority at Raley’s O-N-E Market. Any cereal containing more than 25% of its total calories from added sugar per serving is identified with a ‘Higher in Added Sugar’ shelf tag. Other categories getting the sugar evaluation include Ready-to-Drink (RTD) beverages, pasta sauces, baby food, protein bars and condiments like BBQ sauce and ketchup.

To help consumers make better decisions while shopping, digital screens in the front of the store rotate messages by department providing information on healthier choices. Foodservice areas use window clings and the menu board to help convey this useful information. Better-for-you guidance is also provided in price rails at the shelf to help shoppers make informed purchase decisions.

Retailer as life partner on journey to healthier lifestyle

Raley’s believes the consumer should be equipped to shop with better information and guidance. In an effort to help them realize their healthy living ambitions, the product options they’ll encounter already lean heavily in that direction. In the high traffic meat department, attributes such as organic or anti-biotic free are flagged within an assortment that’s already curated with healthier and higher quality choices in mind.

To help fulfill the Education mission, the Truckee Raley’s O-N-E Market is their first store to have a registered dietitian on-site to interact and coach consumers. Scott Brown, Raley’s first in-store registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), is there to conduct nutrition tours, provide one-on-one healthy living consults and answer customer questions. Raley’s customer loyalty platform also gets a twist in Truckee: the “Something Extra Health” program offers biometric screenings, classes and in the future will feature vendor presentations.

“Shoppers these days want to know more and are faced with an increasingly confusing environment around navigating claims like ’natural‘ and ’plant based,’” said Minor. “We feel we have a responsibility to help explain and clarify what best practices look like in making food choices. Our role as retailer is to help them on their healthy living journey by operating as guide and coach.”

The future of food retail?

Most satisfying in our conversations with Minor and others at Raley’s was their sense of commitment and passion about what ”changing the way the world eats one plate at a time” truly means and how that plays out when you’re inside the front door. The position Raley’s O-N-E Market takes is active not passive, expressing leadership rather than go figure it out for yourself.

No one is going to beat Amazon on friction-free e-commerce, or Walmart on lower price. We have ample evidence that the middle market in grocery retail is a tough place to do business when the value proposition is based on location (getting weaker to defend) or all-things-to-all-people assortment (not a real strength anymore).

We believe the platform of highly differentiated and focused concept – especially in the Health & Wellness space – gives consumers an experience and another reason to shop brick and mortar. This is critical to food retail success and means leaning in fully to a commitment that places the customer at the center of strategic planning.

This insight must be informed by a crystal-clear higher purpose that translates into on-the-ground strategic decisions which defines and manifests in every aspect of store operation.

Human beings are emotional creatures. People are not fact-based analytical decision-making machines. We know the human sub-conscious plays a far more important role in helping guide actions and decisions than the cognitive side, yet most retailers operate on the “rational” channel.

When it’s heart-over-head, the grocery store shopping experience is enhanced by strategies that acknowledge our deep love affair with food, interesting culinary experiences and the prevailing desire for a healthy lifestyle.

  • Disney knows how to create the magic in their kingdom. Imagine a food store with the same heart and passion for food experience and how that could play out in a store setting.

Raley’s recognizes the growing importance of grocery foodservice experiences especially at a time when going to restaurants is less desirable. Yet the magic of environment and ambiance are no less important here than at the corner bistro. “Raley’s O-N-E Market includes McKinney Loft – a tribute to Steve McKinney, skier, mountaineer and local icon. The loft features plenty of seating, a beer and wine bar, bar bites, and an outdoor fireplace and large TV screens,” explains Minor.

At the crux of Raley’s likely success with Raley’s O-N-E Market is its higher purpose. This is harder to define correctly and to optimize fully. For that reason, Emergent has built a four-step plan to guide higher purpose development. You can download a copy here.

If would like to discuss this in the context of your business and its future, please use this link to start a conversation.

For more food trends, consumer insight and communications strategy follow us on Twitter @EmergentLiving.

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. Previously Bob was Founder and CEO of Wheatley & Timmons; Founder and President of Wheatley Blair; President Ogilvy & Mather PR Chicago; President and COO Ogilvy & Mather West. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

behavioral science helps us understand how people make purchase decisions

Let’s Unpack the New Alchemy of Brand Growth

July 22nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 0 comments on “Let’s Unpack the New Alchemy of Brand Growth”

Sustainable sales tied to behavioral science

Early 20th-century Philadelphia department store magnate John Wanamaker was famously quoted, “Half the money I spend in advertising is wasted; trouble is, I don’t know which half.” His expressed exasperation has stood the test of time and remains relevant today. Are you confident your marketing investments are firing on all cylinders? Are you sure the levels of engagement you expect are being achieved, especially in an era of extreme uncertainty when consumer attitudes and behaviors are shifting?

What Wanamaker didn’t have access to in his day were the significant achievements in insight into consumer mindset, an outcome of modern behavioral science. Now, we have a litmus test and series of steps that can be applied to design marketing programs that help erase the sense of gambling that can accompany consumer outreach investments.

  • In this article we will map the journey to more effective marketing communication, a path that helps resolve Wanamaker’s dilemma.

The trouble begins at the front door of strategy when brands focus their messaging and tactics on themselves, their product features and benefits – and not on the aspirations, needs and wants of the consumer. Moreover, unless understanding of how people operate is factored in, the entire effort becomes more ‘luck of the draw’ than an informed, assured path to sustainable business growth.

The most important insight to consumer behavior that drives business results

Recent studies, including a report from Google on mastering consumer engagement, can be summarized in one over-arching conclusion that impacts how strategy is best formulated: Human beings consistently function on a predictable track to reduce or avoid taxing their brains. Researchers call this “releasing cognitive burden,” meaning people sidestep messaging that is perceived as complicated or too risky.

Marketing that is designed to help consumers with their DNA-driven efforts to make decisions easier and friction-free will lift the doubt – and help bring assured victory to outreach efforts. This is especially meaningful at a time when every single dollar spent on consumer outreach needs to perform like 10.

Understanding this path of least resistance, helps explain why emotion is more powerful than analytical storytelling to motivate outcomes and purchase behaviors. The remarkable processing that goes on underneath our cognitive radar is a form of editing that helps us preserve mental energy. The sub-conscious brain has greater influence over purchase decisions than we give it credit.

The recipe for engagement and improved outcomes

Three primary strategic components should be considered in planning, and three tools can be applied to ‘load the deck’ in your brand’s favor.

  1. Message simplicity and clarity

What is the consumer-relevant problem you solve and how do you solve it? Consumers prefer brands that help them, that provide utility and are useful. The caveat here is a tendency for brands to complicate this communication with lengthy explanations of technology and formulation advantages. On the one hand it might be presented as reasons to believe but in reality, this just stresses the consumer’s brain so they ignore it.

Moreover, this approach puts the brand in the role of story hero, which embeds an immediate disconnect for the consumer. People see themselves as the hero of their life journey and the brand’s role should be positioned as their guide and coach.  This consumer perspective needs to be respected alongside the requirement to keep communication simple and crystal clear.

2. Power of social proof

Trust is an essential element of creating a relationship with consumers and moving from consideration to purchase. How trust is created has changed as consumers grow increasingly skeptical of promises and claims made by businesses. In sum, people believe other people first.

Social channel conversations and reviews are a primary driver of trust. This is why consumers will research product reviews and examine social channels to measure the veracity of what brands claim about their product attributes and benefits. The confidence they acquire from the endorsement of others works to simplify decision-making.

3. Authority bias

Alongside the importance assigned to consumer voices in social channels are the words and opinions of respected experts and influencers. Note the word respected here is extremely important. We have ample evidence that certain classes of influencer have grown less effective when they perform more like paid endorsements rather than authentic, independent guidance.

Editorial media, physicians, chefs/food experts, health and wellness gurus and others of similar credential can be enlisted to help educate consumers on the guardrails of how to define excellence and reliability. These views and opinions work as a form of believable shorthand to help remove risk and create comfort in moving consumers along the funnel.

Tactical tools to deploy alongside the strategic components

Behavioral research also confirms that human beings resonate to a small collection of tools that can work to help close the sale.

  • Scarcity – we are hardwired for preference of anything that is in short supply and acquires greater perceived value because it is not abundant.
  • Speed – a newly minted desire borne of the Internet age is our requirement to have needs satisfied quickly. If you can move from transaction to front door fast, that advantage helps close the deal.
  • FREE – this is still a magic word. Engrained in our cultural heritage is respect for the concept of free. If you can include a bonus with purchase or some other value can be attached to the transaction at no cost – such that the word FREE is in the offering, it’s a compelling incentive.

The new age we are in and role of beliefs, values and mission

Another important strategic consideration is the emergence of shared values and mission as a component of preference. Research also confirms that consumers want their purchases to be a symbolic “flag” of their beliefs and what they think is important.

Higher purpose matters. Your ability to weave deeper meaning and a belief system into your brand promise and presentation is vital to sustainable growth. This is an evolutionary change that has been underway in earnest for more than five years. The pandemic has pushed the momentum under this cultural shift even further.

Prestige, wealth and other more materialistic attributes have fallen away while people now believe that brands have a role to play in making the world a better place. At a more personal level, they want to know how brands are acting in their best interests and helping them in tangible ways to achieve their life goals.

The rise of the “B” Corp is evidence of how this can play out when companies design their business to operate in service of others around issues of importance such as hunger, poverty and the environment.

Having a great product is table stakes now. Imbuing your brand and business with a higher purpose is a defining characteristic and quality consumers want. It is another piece of evidence that the company has a moral center, high standards, a value system, and thus can be trusted.

  • All of these strategies and characteristics at a very human level operate as trust creators to ease the buying decision and dilute risk. This matters because human beings don’t want to burn mental calories with heavy analysis of information in order to get to a reliable decision to buy.

Your ability to remove risk and create trust is job one to build business. If you would benefit from guidance on how to bring these tools together for optimal impact and effect, please use this link to start a conversation about how we can help you do that.

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.

Dr. Lisa Dyson transforms meat industry

Dyson’s Moonshot to Transform Meat Industry

June 30th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, change, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food experiences, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Transformation 0 comments on “Dyson’s Moonshot to Transform Meat Industry”

Air Protein creates first ultra-sustainable proteins

If the pandemic created one positive outcome for Americans, it has been the most potent force in history to elevate the importance of health and wellness to consumers. Already a rising cultural priority, COVID-19 serves as a compelling motivator for people to further invest in their physical health by elevating the quality of what they eat and drink.

Witness the skyrocketing popularity of meatless meat, advanced by first making a product that accurately replicates the taste and eating experience of animal meat but sourced from plants. Survey after survey in the food industry has verified the general growing interest in consuming more plant-based foods because people believe it’s a healthier option. As a result, the alternative meat business is forecasted to reach 40 to 50 percent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry by 2029.

Now on the horizon comes a new company and food-making technology that promises to create the most sustainable meat alternative on earth. Meat that requires no agriculture, no animals and yet delivers a nutritionally superior, complete higher protein product than anything created from a chicken, pig, cow or plant.

A funny thing happened on the way to the moon

During the massive run-up in the 1960s in its bid to put a man on the moon, NASA continuously launched better, bigger spacecraft while another experiment was going on behind the scenes – one that was eventually shelved and forgotten. The premise was based on nourishing astronauts with food that could be created in space, and the tool for this genius idea was carbon transformation. Said more simply, converting carbon dioxide exhaled by the crew into food. Experiments were conducted but eventually pushed aside in favor of other lunar landing priorities.

Pleasanton, CA-based Air Protein, helmed by MIT physicist Dr. Lisa Dyson, is on a new mission to take the carbon transformation ball all the way down the field and put it in the culinary end-zone. “More and more people are starting to consider the harsh reality of our food system as a global contributor to greenhouse gases (GHG) and climate change,” explains Dr. Dyson. “Our agricultural system produces more GHG than all of the fuel-burning sources of transportation combined. When you mix that with the finite limitations of available land and water resources for farms, ranches and fisheries, you know it’s going to be nearly impossible at some point to feed a rapidly growing global population.”

Dyson’s moonshot is a fascinating recipe of uniquely combining carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen with renewable energy, water and nutrients, then adding common microbes in a fermentation process similar to making wine or cheese. The high protein flour outcome of this brewery-like approach is turned into authentic meat analogs by using pressure, temperature and natural flavors. Her sustainable “Air Protein Farm” operates more like a yogurt making facility than meat processor.

While a steak requires two years of dutiful cattle raising that consumes a significant amount of natural resources, Dyson’s ultra-sustainable meat comes to fruition in just four days.

Air Protein’s process helps avoid two current concerns of conventional meat infrastructure revealed during the coronavirus outbreak:

  1. Dangers of meat packing plants becoming hyper-spreader environments for the virus.
  2. The resulting scarcity and higher prices of various meats available to consumers at the grocery.

Alternatively, the Air Protein carbon footprint is negative. All of this becomes more plausible when you consider that carbon chains are the essential building blocks of all fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Scientists refer to carbon as “the backbone of life” because, along with water, it is the primary element that makes up all living things.

Sustainability emerges as part of the path to purchase

People everywhere are experiencing a transformation of their own in adding higher purpose, mission, beliefs and values to the shopping list of what they want from food brands they prefer and purchase. The International Food Information Council in a recent national pandemic-inspired survey of consumer behaviors found the impact of environmental sustainability is on the rise as a priority, with 39% of consumers saying it is now a factor in their buying decisions. More than 40% of respondents said it is important for food makers to have a commitment to sustainability, recognition that people are more aware now of limited natural resources and the effect of society and industry on climate change.

Sustainability practices and behaviors clearly matter to people. Dyson believes Air Protein’s emerging story will be a game-changer at the supermarket meat case where retailers are increasingly on the hunt for brands that fulfill the shoppers’ wishes for sustainable choice.

Climate change became the call to arms

The horrible devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina that claimed more than 1,800 lives and left $125 billion in property damage, much of it in New Orleans when the levees were overcome, served as a Road to Damascus experience for Dr. Dyson. While there she labored to help restore a city overcome by a natural disaster that many assigned to the accelerating menace of hostile weather patterns borne of climate change. Dyson vowed to make solving the rampant build-up of greenhouse gases (GHG) an avocation, leading to a partnership with MIT colleague Dr. John Reed and the eventual genesis of a new company named Kiverdi.

“My experience in New Orleans was life-changing. I decided to develop solutions that would combat climate change. During the years following, it became clear to me that our food system is a major culprit in this unfolding crisis. The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, how to feed everyone sustainably and affordably is the big question we intend to answer,” she said.

The supreme irony of Air Protein is its intention to make food from carbon dioxide. As if meat were to become a new kind of photosynthesis that turns protein creation on its head – not as a contributor to greenhouse gases but also an effective eraser of this global temperature-raising threat. Ultra-sustainable meat may become a center of plate, culinary chess piece to satisfy the appetite while refusing to exact an enormous toll on the environment. That no plants or animals are involved means there is an embedded promise of a high-quality protein source that is generously renewable, kinder to the environment, scaleable and thus plentiful.

The premiumization of palates

Food culture in America has undergone a makeover as the quality of cuisines, ingredients, cooking techniques, kitchen tools and culinary expectations have risen. From the days of Hamburger Helper and Cheese Whiz, people now find themselves eating Michelin star quality cooking at the corner gastro-pub.

The successful strategic gamesmanship of plant-based meat like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, was their insightful move not to make an improved Vegan burger for Vegans. Rather, to deliver an alternative that could satisfy the sensory, gustatory preferences of the most ardent meat lovers. In doing so, these companies reimagined veggie burgers as plant-based protein, opening a new chapter in food where taste trade-off to achieve better-for-you was not required.

This feat is not lost on Air Protein founder Dr. Dyson. With consumers moving rapidly to embrace alternative meat, she sees Air Protein’s probiotic production tech as the next generation category. She has chefs working alongside food science experts to ensure that deliciousness is right there with the heaping tablespoon of ‘feel good’ about not harming the environment with every forkful of her chicken made without the chicken. “We are tuned in to the requirement that our products must deliver on the taste, flavor and eating experience of animal meat, the plant-based hamburgers have shown that when you hit the eating experience squarely, the purchases will follow and repeat,” she said.

The next generation of meatless meat is coming

Who knew that exhaling combined with microbes could build a protein? It took NASA to start the ball rolling and Dr. Dyson and her team to hit the three-point basket at the buzzer. “Because our protein production process requires no farm, no agricultural input or animal, our ability to scale is not governed by supply chain conditions. The COVID-19 influenced meat shortages we’ve seen remind everyone that the food system as we know it can be compromised. We’re excited because our game-changing technology can create a reliable, sustainable supply of meat products that are better for you and infinitely better for the planet at the same time,” she said. Context provides dramatic proof: Dyson says it would take a farm the size of Texas to produce the same amount of meat Air Protein can deliver from a production facility as small as the footprint of Disneyland.

Air Protein is a category-defining company now in the midst of an equity capital raise and expects this round to provide the required assets to take the last lap to commercialization and retail launch. “What’s exciting here is our cost base to produce meat. We will be able to market our products at an affordable price, which in this economy will be important. Our goal one day will be to help economically feed the world from the platform we’re building now,” reports James D. White, Executive Chairman of Air Protein, and former CEO and President of Jamba (formerly Jamba Juice Company).

This dynamic duo believes Air Protein will eventually become the reference standard for ultra-sustainable meat.

Can’t wait to try her chicken at the corner grocery with a salad. One day you’ll probably find it on the moon.

Editorial note: Emergent extends our thanks and appreciation to Dr. Lisa Dyson and James White for participating in this important story.

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.

How to PREVAIL in the Midst of Uncertainty

June 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, CMO, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, food experiences, Healthy Living, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 1 comment on “How to PREVAIL in the Midst of Uncertainty”

Emerging brand navigates change at the speed of a SpaceX rocket launch

Over the last five years there has been an unprecedented shift in food culture to favor new and emerging food brands. These new brands have found traction by reinventing existing food and beverage categories or creating new ones with elevated recipes, higher quality ingredients and an ethos to go with it.

When the pandemic suddenly descended like a quick-forming Hurricane headed on-shore, we watched in earnest to see how these bright upstarts would weather the storm. On the one hand, these new businesses often fulfill the desire for healthier options right out of the gate. On the other, as young organizations without the deep cash reserves of legacy counterparts they can be vulnerable.

Among the new brands Emergent has been following is PREVAIL jerky. PREVAIL was founded and is guided by Glen Kohn in Chicago, a financial services investment expert (understands the balance sheet) who had a personal penchant for jerky making that turned into his life passion.

Answering a prevailing trend of higher quality, better for you

PREVAIL has reinvented the jerky category with a truly clean formulation that rids the meat-centric snack option of unwanted preservatives, horrific sodium levels, added sugars and ingredients that food allergy sensitive consumers can’t stomach. What’s extraordinary is the taste and eating experience, an uncanny ‘secret sauce’ ability of Glen’s products to deliver a jerky sensory bite but without the toughness often associated with dried meats.

We wanted to find out how Glen and PREVAIL were faring as COVID-sponsored upheaval sent shockwaves through many businesses that are in early stages of their development and growth curve. Glen graciously answered five questions intended to gauge the impact of the pandemic. We include our observations and insights following Glen’s answers.

Five Questions for Glen Kohn and PREVAIL Jerky

  1. In the last 60 days much has changed for emerging food and beverage brands. How has the pandemic impacted your business and what changes have you made in how you go-to-market?

Glen Kohn: “Many of our retail locations such as hotels, health clubs and coffee shops closed down at the start and some remain closed. Given what was happening around us in retail channels, we knew to retain our momentum we needed to pivot to online. On the ingredient supply side, we believed that beef prices would likely go up, so we got out ahead of the possible challenge in April and purchased 100% grass-fed beef to control our costs.” 

Emergent: What’s evident here was the quickness and resolve Glen and his team showed to get ahead of the shifts and do their best to keep the velocity moving. Especially important was the supply chain decision given the significant escalation in beef prices.

PREVAIL sells at a premium to other traditional category jerky brands. While the value proposition justifies the extra cost, in an uncertain economy, it is possible for price premium acceleration to hit a ceiling and generate resistance from users. Wisely Glen avoided the pricing meltdown. He also sidestepped taking a hit on slender margins by banking his supply.

  1. What specific shifts, changes have you created to your sales and marketing strategies?

Glen Kohn: “We quickly shifted to go after more e-commerce retailers, corporate snack boxes, and B to B online platforms. We also saw a spike and increased interest in Affiliate programs. Dollars that were allocated to retail channel tastings and events were shifted to bolster PR and social media spend.”

Emergent: Food retail industry watcher and guide Brick Meets Click recently published a report showing online grocery transactions were up 18% from 62.5 million in April to an astounding 73.5 million in May. Also in May, household penetration reached 33% as 43 million consumers shopped e-commerce channels for food and beverage. This is way ahead of earlier food industry studies that forecasted household penetration on a much slower ramp, and offers proof that the pandemic has caused an inflexion point with online ordering. Out of necessity consumers have become more comfortable with this shopping behavior. Glen’s pivot to emphasizing e-commerce was a smart move.

Trust is at a premium these days and now more than ever, people rely on the recommendations of other consumers to inform their brand selection decisions. Social proof is the most important mechanism to validate what Glen wants the world to believe about his product efficacy and to encourage trial.

  1. How have investors reacted to the COVID-19 situation and what do you think they’re looking for now from brands like yours?

Glen Kohn: “Food is definitely king now. As evidence, shelf stable, healthy snacks are booming. If anything, now is the time to invest in food and beverage brands while other industries such as travel and hospitality wrestle with systemic challenges to their business model post-pandemic. Investors will spend their money on businesses with strong ongoing sales traction.”

Emergent: Equity investors often point to company leadership and their business skills as a primary driver underneath their investment decisions. Glen approaches the business not just as a guy with passion and a great recipe, but also a business brain who isn’t hesitant to make decisions in the midst of uncertain conditions. Combined with better jerky category relevance and salience, you can see why Glen should continue to attract operating capital as he works to scale the enterprise. Stay-at-home conditions and protein snacking make great bedfellows. 

  1. How do you see consumer priorities and behaviors changing as a result of the economic uncertainty and lifestyle impacts of the pandemic?

Glen Kohn: “Consumers are increasingly turning to healthy foods during the pandemic. The food industry is one of the only industries to surge during this time. People are snacking more throughout the day and they are looking for healthy alternatives that the whole family can enjoy.” 

Emergent: The pandemic has ushered in significant transformational changes in consumer attitude and behaviors. In our recent article, “Health is the New Wealth” we outlined the sea-change in the reshuffling of priorities and needs for people. The COVID-19 event has dramatically demonstrated how ‘out of control’ the world can be, upending every single aspect of life, lifestyle and career. What is the one thing people can control in a seemingly uncontrollable world? Their investments to enhance their own health and wellbeing through what they put in their bodies and active efforts to take better care of themselves.

A healthy immune system is at a big premium these days. Brands that actively partner and help guide consumers on their journey to healthier living have an extraordinary opportunity to build a lasting and sustainable relationship. Glen sees this and his company is positioned to take advantage of it.

  1. What guidance would you offer to the founders and investors of new emerging brands that will help assure their continued development? What are the top three things you believe they should do to help ensure continued growth?

Glen: “From what we have heard and seen it’s best to diversify channel strategy and watch behavioral changes. We have seen brands that were primarily in one retail channel and were crushed when the country shut down.

  • Be nimble.
  • Cash is king.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a chance.
  • When the timing feels right be a first mover.” 

Emergent: During uncertain times when the future appears to be unpredictable and changes are occurring around you at unprecedented speed, occasionally fear can set in that causes businesses to turn inward and go dark as they “ride out the storm.” We have ample historical evidence that this is a recipe for disaster. Brands that continue to invest in their growth, in communication with consumers, that remain present and work quickly to adjust to the changes going on around them are likely to emerge in much better condition than those which retreat.

You can’t cut your way out of a recession. No question cash management and burn are fundamental business issues to address. That said, it is more important than ever to be a builder and as Glen says, a first mover.

A brand name that inspires consumers during uncertainty

PREVAIL is an interesting and compelling brand name. On a very visceral level it is aspirational to the consumer experience. People want to prevail over what looks at times to be insurmountable odds. This brand as guide, coach and expert authority can take the journey with consumers as a trusted source and resource.

The characteristics and drivers of successful brand building have changed as consumers seek deeper meaning and shared values with the brands they prefer. Equally, brands need to position themselves as partners in helping improve their consumers’ lives.

To help them prevail.

Emergent is expert in helping build new and emerging brands and businesses. If you’re looking for fresh ideas and perspective, let us know.

Editorial note: Emergent would like to express our heartfelt thanks to Glen Kohn for participating in this story. We appreciate his time and efforts to help inform the industry.

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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