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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.

The barrier to climate investment is fear

What is the biggest barrier to sustainability investments?

August 12th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Carbon footprint, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Consumer insight, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Navigation, storytelling, Sustainability, Transformation, Transparency 0 comments on “What is the biggest barrier to sustainability investments?”

…It isn’t the supply chain or manufacturing

Imagine an out-of-control cruise ship bearing down on the sunny Island resort dock at 30-knots full speed with no captain at the wheel. 200,000 tons of steel coming in hard to shore, kicking up a gigantic spray of water behind it. There you are at the coffee shop in front of the pier, enjoying your latte while waiting for the ship to arrive. You watch in horror as this gigantic floating hotel with 4,000 souls aboard is barreling right for you, the bow getting taller and taller in the closing moments. You freeze – unable to move as the disastrous, tragic end draws near – paralyzed by _________.

The word is fear.

You didn’t see it earlier, but painted on the bow in bright green, it’s the USS Climate Chaos coming in hot …literally.

Sustainability at one time was more leisurely focused on clean energy use and efforts to improve, say, recycling and clean energy from the manufacturing plant to customer warehouses. The annual report would recite the efficiencies and efforts made to use less fossil fuels in the daily routine of manufacturing, shipping and commerce.

But wait; more recently we learn that greenhouse gas levels, despite the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic, have reached their highest concentration in 4 million years and shows no signs of slowing down. The planet is rapidly warming. Climate impacts start to get closer and closer to home through unrelenting wildfires, droughts, super-storms and wild weather shifts. You can feel it and see it now.

Then as if on cue, along comes a series of reports that reveal the incredibly significant relationship our food system has to climate impact, now the second leading contributor of global greenhouse gas production at 24%. Consumers who are already increasingly aware and sensitized to big societal issues like climate trouble, begin to realize there is a relationship between their food choices and climate outcomes.

The word sustainability acquires new gravitas and deeper meaning as it is redefined to signal climate threat from supply chain actors like livestock production and soil-damaging industrial agriculture practices.

  • Who knew it took 1,600 gallons of water, massive land resources and two years to produce one 16-ounce steak?
  • Why didn’t we know before that the world’s largest carbon sink, the Amazon rainforest, is disappearing at the rate of an acre per second due to repurposing the forested land for animal agriculture and crops to feed them?

Sustainability may now be the most popular term in modern marketing

Yet it is still vastly underserved as companies wrestle with its deeper meaning and implications. Will we get to solutions soon enough to prevent portions of the planet from becoming uninhabitable? Or will the streets of Toronto begin to resemble Beverly Hills with giant royal palm trees lining the Yorktown shopping district, while the southern hemisphere reels from millions of climate refugees running north for survival?

  • Sustainability is an operational imperative that starts at the field or ranch and works its way forward to the retail store. The challenge ahead begins with understanding what an organization’s carbon footprint looks like though objective, data-driven scientific analysis that runs all the way back through the supply chain and forward through manufacturing, distributing and recovery of packaging materials.

Within this analysis comes visibility to the conditions that impact climate threat contributions and identifying where improvements can be made, and carbon mitigation targets set.

The biggest threat to progress here is various forms of organizational fear

Given the speed at which climate threat is turning into a passion point for consumers on the path to a purchase decision, there is a need to get this right sooner rather than later. Yet some companies still struggle to navigate.

Why?

Fear of change

Change is hard. No one likes it except the most progressive leaders who see it as a path to reinvention and growth. Changing institutionalized thinking and processes is difficult. But change it must. We need a wildfire of movement towards credible sustainability solutions.

Fear of risk

The street looks for quarterly reports that repeat positive progress. Companies may worry that fundamental changes in infrastructure and operational standards will be a risk – that even with disciplined planning, to some degree, – they’ll still be steering in uncharted waters. Yes, but it’s a necessary risk worth taking.

Fear of truth

Every business resides in a glass house these days because anything that can be known, will be known. Are there some policies and behaviors that under scrutiny in the light of day could cause a little unease?

Transparency is demanded by users and stakeholders at a time when missteps can be discovered and reported globally in the digital age of communication. You already own that problem. The larger social responsibility demerit is knowing the problems exist yet doing nothing to improve them.

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine…

Thinking differently – turns out robust sustainability commitments and policy are actually a path to improved innovation, financial outcomes and business growth.

Our partners at Brand Experience Group (BXG) made the business case, quantifying the impact of holistic sustainability strategies on balance sheet progress. Overwhelming evidence points to business growth from progressive sustainability programs, properly communicated to all relevant stakeholders. The research also proves that absence of these programs leads to sub-optimal business performance. (if you want to see the report, request it here).

How can this be true?

Because the number of consumers who care about sustainability investments, programs and verified outcomes is NOT some small tertiary cohort. According to BXG:

  • 34% of consumers are deeply passionate about sustainability progress, and
  • another 33% are “concerned” about sustainability policies and behaviors.
  • That’s 67 percent of your consuming marketplace.

If consumers want it, you need to deliver, right?

In a sentence: sustainability is good for business.

It may require changes in how the company operates, sources and manufacturers, but these changes are necessary when the great ship Climate Chaos is coming in all gas and no brakes to ultimately reward the climate caretakers and punish the deniers who claim they didn’t see it coming.

Is this going to be expensive for our economy?

Not if the thesis set out by think tank RethinkX is correct. They forecast ambitious but realistic targets for change in the next 10 years, based on deployment of technologies we already have in place, such as precision fermentation in food making. They state:

“By leveraging the power of market forces, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions can be transformed from a costly expense into a lucrative investment at every scale from local to global. Regions, nations, communities, cities, businesses, and investors choosing to embrace and lead the disruptions rather than resist them will reap enormous economic and social rewards as well as environmental benefits.”

Decarbonizing the global economy will not be costly, it will instead save trillions of dollars…

“By leveraging the power of market forces, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions can be transformed from a costly expense into a lucrative investment at every scale from local to global. Regions, nations, communities, cities, businesses, and investors choosing to embrace and lead the disruptions rather than resist them will reap enormous economic and social rewards as well as environmental benefits.” – RethinkX Climate Change Report

Time to get on board and pilot the new Climate Threat ship to a better, brighter and hopefully cooler future.

If you want to get a clear understanding of how to get ahead of the unstoppable and pervasive need for sustainability readiness, read our Brand Sustainability Solution report. You can download it free here.

If you want to know exactly where your business is on climate readiness, take our five-minute online Sustainability Readiness questionnaire. It is complimentary along with the scoring and follow-up report on what the results mean. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by knowing exactly where your company sustainability challenges reside. Here’s the link to take the electronic questionnaire.

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.

Climate conscious consumption

Now on Deck: Emergence of Climate-Conscious Consumption

July 12th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, change, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Healthy Living, Navigation, Sustainability 0 comments on “Now on Deck: Emergence of Climate-Conscious Consumption”

Mainstream consumers aligning for greater good

Sustainability concerns could not be a hotter topic right now. The temperature continues to rise as consumers learn there’s a connection between their purchase decisions and climate impacts. According to Hartman Group Sustainability 2021 trend research report, the issue was already gaining significant momentum prior to the pandemic. It is virtually on fire now as environmental concerns have become attached to purchase motivations for mainstream consumers — a new form of climate-conscious consumption.

  • To help you determine where your company is on the sustainability and climate readiness continuum, we’ve created a simple self-assessment tool you can access, offered later in this article.

Hartman characterizes this as a form of ‘secular spirituality’ – a moral system that operates as a guide to decision making now focused on the greater good. Consumer sentiment on environmental and social wellbeing therefore should not be underestimated by brand marketers.

Helping drive this cultural sea change is increased media coverage tracing the impact of food and beverage consumption to the environment, personal health, safety and planetary security. This is occurring in parallel with a potent cocktail of climate anxiety and concerns over a legacy of regressive public environmental policies, that now serves to motivate consumer desire for real change.

We’re witnessing a causal link emerge in consumer sentiments between everyday life (I bought a hamburger) and bigger problems ahead (it took 600 gallons of water, increasingly scarce land resources, toxic methane released into the air, and two years to make that hamburger). The growing imperative is urgent action needed to stem the tide and get ahead of global warming impacts on life before our environment reaches a point of no return.

What’s telling is the move from fringe to the center. At one time so called “green” concerns sat on the periphery – important to a narrow audience of climate advocates. Now, this has migrated into the mainstream, likely because people are increasingly confronted with global warming impacts right in their front yard – Seattle at 116 degrees in June? Absolutely historic.

As evidence of this transition: Hartman found that 51% of consumers say they purchase sustainable products specifically because they are better for the environment – that’s up 17 points from 2017 to 2019.

Progressive brands see this and will get ahead of it

What does sustainability and climate readiness look like? How should brands behave in an environment when consumers want to make pound-for-pound comparisons and seek transparency on just how climate positive a brand is?

Carbon footprint is about to become a defining tool in assessing environmental faithfulness. Yet there is no recognized umbrella benchmark for how this should be measured and calculated. Until industry associations coalesce around a standard set of rules for sustainability science and data, its likely to feel a bit like the wild west, with third-party category expert climate sheriffs holding court.

Emergent isn’t standing on the sidelines. We’ve already weighed in on the climate challenge with our Brand Sustainability Solution program. The first-of-its-kind suite of services integrates scientific carbon footprint assessment with consumer insight research to determine which areas of climate positive behavior are most important to a brand’s user base; and marries the outcomes with a suite of marketing communications tools intended to help a company convey its sustainability story and climate policy bona fides.

Our consumer insight research partner, Brand Experience Group, has already completed a study that makes a clear case for the business benefits of strengthening sustainability commitments – and found evidence that failure to do so will create a long-term drag on brand growth and profits.

Shift in responsibility for sustainability action to companies

For years the consensus among consumers was environmental solutions were an individual choice and responsibility. Now that perception has moved and people largely see companies as responsible for creating measurable change, mainly because they are viewed as key actors in the sustainability problem.

Hartman’s research charted the shift on who bears responsibility for sustainability and climate mitigation policies to large corporations. They are on top at 86% followed by government at 71% and individuals now at 58% – down from 73% a few years ago.

This is a moment in time when companies have an opportunity to take a leadership position on a rapidly developing cultural change that will impact their brand value proposition. Five key directional questions to consider:

  1. Have you conducted an independent, third-party Carbon Footprint to better understand climate impacts and to inform mitigation efforts?

2. Have you conducted consumer insight research to better understand how climate and sustainability concerns impact your core users’ behaviors and product choices?

3. Do you have a clear understanding of which sustainability issues (e.g. climate change, pollution of the oceans, animal welfare) are most motivating for your users?

4. Do you have a clear understanding of where your Sustainability efforts rank among competitors in your relevant categories (ahead of or lagging behind)?

5. Are you confident your brands’ sustainability narratives enhance consumer preference and choice?

These and other questions form the guideposts of sustainability and climate readiness. If you’re wondering how your company stacks up on progressive sustainability programs and policies, you can take our simple online assessment questionnaire. In just five minutes we can help you secure a snapshot of where your organization sits today on climate readiness.

Use this link to take the confidential online sustainability readiness questionnaire. Once submitted we will come back to you with a customized outcome report, complete with readiness scoring. Both the questionnaire and follow-up results report are complimentary.

It’s better to know where you are now and be proactive rather than wait for the sustainability boom to drop and find yourself in the unenviable place of reacting and playing catch-up.

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.

Eat Just non-chicken chicken

Want Users To Listen, Give Them Something Worth Listening To

May 27th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Category Design, change, Climate Change, climate culture, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Navigation, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Sustainability, Transformation 0 comments on “Want Users To Listen, Give Them Something Worth Listening To”

Why Brand Education is More Effective than Selling

There’s an almost irresistible, gravitational pull in brand marketing to focus on self-promotion. It’s instinctive and alluring to talk singularly about why your product is better than others. Is your head nodding up and down? You may believe the persuasive story is your awesome tech, your incredible recipe, your authentic ingredients, your great taste, your contemporary look, your creative store design – all of the various arguments why your brand or banner is terrific and a superior choice.

  • These brand advantages and qualities are now fundamental currency in a marketing game whose rules have changed.
  • Yes, all of these things remain important, but should they be the leading tip of your marketing spear? Not anymore. Here’s why.

The dynamics powering consumer and brand relationships have transformed. Consumers gained control of brand engagement when the Internet and digital era handed it to them. Your users know everything, can compare anything, and quickly learn from the experiences of others good, bad or indifferent. They can turn your engagement tactics on or off with a click. When consumer relevance reigns supreme, it’s time for an enlightened approach.

Secondary research confirms most people run away from self-congratulatory messaging outreach that looks like traditional selling. For them, it isn’t trusted communication. Effective marketing recognizes that the journey brands take with their best customers is built on a foundation of reciprocity and value exchange.

Role of the modern brand is guide and purposeful voice

Instead, your brand should present itself as a guide, coach and advisor on the consumer’s life journey. Marketing becomes relevant and resonant to users when the value offered is of intrinsic benefit in helping them achieve their personal aspirations and goals. Your brand should be a partner not a seller. Key insight: the dynamic of how brand relationships are made has shifted to help over hype, so your voice and story should realign with it. How so?

Eat Just brand, the first cultivated chicken meat to win regulatory approval for sale in Singapore, recently struck a deal with a hotel-based restaurant called Madam Fan. They are launching the first home delivery menu of dishes using Eat Just’s non-chicken chicken.

Inside the food delivery container is a Google Cardboard viewer with a link to a short film. According to Eat Just CEO Josh Tetrick the video transports you to a Brazilian rainforest where you observe this rapidly disappearing climate-critical resource. You see this amazing natural carbon sink being replaced by industrial farms that raise animals for meat and the corn and soy crops to feed the animals. The goal of Eat Just’s video is to help users appreciate why cultivated meat matters to the planet’s health.

Turning the food delivery box into a portable brand experience is such a smart move.

Did the video do a typical romance of their product tech? No, it was instead an inspiring educational experience where the consumer learns about the connection between our food system and its related climate impact. This frames the Eat Just brand’s higher purpose, it informs in a way that’s consistent with changing consumer values and beliefs about food. It creates a unique teaching moment – and a powerful one at that.

This is how a community of believers and advocates is built. The video endears the Eat Just brand to its users. Of course, for all of this to work, the product eating experience still needs to be perfect. It should be an authentic analog to chicken flavor and texture – and taste should hit squarely on the crave-able and delicious notes.

  • That said, in a world of common feature-to-benefit selling tropes, Eat Just credibly, remarkably rises to a new level of value exchange, where eating that nugget of chicken meat acquires a deeper meaning than it would deserve outside this context.

What’s more, the approach educates and benefits the recipient in a compelling way – an “a-ha” moment of learning that rainforest is rapidly disappearing (at an alarming acre per second). Emotion is embedded in the subject matter of the video, so it plays to what we now understand about consumer behavior and the (major) role of emotion in shaping perceptions and actions.

Marketing that’s wanted by the recipient

Your goal is to create marketing that is welcomed by its intended audience, not avoided. When the food or beverage brand helps its core customer with creativity in the kitchen, or enables wellness and fitness experiences, or communicates a higher purpose like food scarcity, the brand gains permission for a conversation. Here the brand bonding is facilitated because we’ve moved beyond transactional selling to a more relevant and powerful dialogue.

You may still wonder: isn’t the path to sales growth paved with communicating product attributes early and often? Not at the expense of failing to educate users. This has everything to do with understanding the rules of reciprocity and trust that influence purchase behavior. Trust is earned when the consumer believes you understand them and their needs and operate unselfishly to work in their best interests. Trust is the active ingredient in an authentic give-and-take relationship between brands and users.

Food and the role of crave-ability and deliciousness

Worth noting, food is an emotion-packed category. People care deeply about the quality of what they put in their bodies. They want to know the ingredients used are high quality, healthy, real, safe and also better for the environment. They especially want to avoid making a bad decision, so how food is presented with an eye towards taste and eating satisfaction helps eliminate the perceived reflexive risk of “It’s healthy so it’s going to taste bad.”

One notable caveat here: any number of fast casual restaurant brands are aware of eat with your eyes magic and advertise food that looks sumptuous and crave-able – all beautifully presented with super strong appetite appeal. Except that the stark reality of what’s actually delivered on the plate is frequently so far removed from the ad imagery that it sets the stage for massive disenchantment and trust disruption.

  • Truth matters. Social channel chronicling of disappointment spells out what’s at stake with consistent over promise and under deliver.
  • If you convey it’s delicious, it better be delicious.

When education is your mission

Sweetgreen is a fast-food chain that understands the role of ethos and deeper meaning in their brand proposition and go-to-market behaviors. This belief system permeates every aspect of how the brand is presented and how the business operates to demonstrate its higher purpose values.

They recently announced a refresh of their brand as they amp up their climate impact bona fides while redefining what fast food is in context of why the company exists. Here’s how they presented the values that sit underneath their new brand identity:

  1. “Food: sweetgreen wants to show that fast food can be synonymous with real food. They invested in new food photography, menu designs and packaging in an effort to highlight their food ethos, which celebrates seasonality, local sourcing and transparency. 
  2. Sustainability: sweetgreen believes that climate change is the defining challenge of our generation. This new identity was designed to showcase sweetgreen’s sustainability initiatives and its ongoing journey to carbon neutrality.”

Education is the leading strategy at sweetgreen. They believe consumers benefit from knowing more about how their food is sourced, farmed and prepared with an eye towards healthier and higher-quality choices that remain friendly to the planet’s wellbeing.

Why help over hype is the way to go

We have entered a new era where brands with purpose and deeper meaning attached to how they operate have an extraordinary opportunity to create lasting, deeper connections with their core users. It’s no longer necessary to compete for attention through a constant drumbeat of hard selling product features.

If you’re committed to building the best possible product experience your capable of, the consumer will recognize and experience it. Why they keep coming back, and why they engage fully in your social channels has more to do with how you help them by enabling their passions and interests and aligning with shared values.

Education is a principle move to provide added value, and while doing so, enhance your relevance. It also respects the expert guide and coach role that brands should play in effective communication.

When you create marketing users want rather than avoid, the opportunity for conversation skyrockets. The relationship, therefore, is a journey not a transaction. Educating consumers is simply smart marketing and sets you up for successful engagement across all digital platforms. It automatically leans into your higher purpose, a point and position not lost on consumers who are looking for it.

If this sparks questions about refining your strategy and brand voice around education-forward outreach, we’d love to talk with you. Use this link to begin 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.

Agency services and resources

The Services You Really Need From Your Agency

May 19th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “The Services You Really Need From Your Agency”

The highest and best use of a strategic resource

If you were to boil down comments we get from clients on what they like about our work, why they entrust us with their marketing needs, a recurring theme pops up. They lean in on strategic guidance and informed perspective about how best to grow their brand and business.

Tactics like social, earned, owned and paid media all matter, and we have a proprietary approach to deploying them. However, the nuts and bolts from agency to agency tend to be common. So the real acid test of value falls into an area we describe as expert guidance. Clients are looking for transformational growth and strength from their brand value propositions. Given that objective, it’s understandable why research shows clients’ top priority for services they expect to gain advantage by outsourcing starts with strategic brand guidance.

Increasingly, clients believe if strategy isn’t dialed in correctly, everything that follows in outreach and sales support is a dice roll. So true. The fundamentals of category design, brand differentiation and positioning, brand narrative, persona analysis, key messaging, brand narrative and customer journey mapping all feed the right and most compelling story to tell.

  • Without user relevance there can be no user resonance. More marketing budgets are wasted because the foundational strategies and consumer insights are not properly dialed-in and the effort fails to engage. Just because you’re able to drive media awareness with a generous budget doesn’t guarantee a winning outcome in the market you serve.

Our value almost always starts with insights we’ve honed over years of working in various categories – insights on consumer behavior, preferences and quirks on the path to purchase. It stands to reason if you have deep understanding of what core users care about, then you also have an opportunity to create content that’s meaningful and useful to them.

Brands are no longer sellers. The privilege of a consumer relationship must be earned through enabling consumer lifestyle interests and aspirations, operating as a valued partner on their life journey. When the relationship is restricted to transactional occasions, it casts the value entirely on product outcomes instead of cultivating a deeper bond and meaning. Suddenly, it’s harder to compete on anything except price. That’s due in part to the leveling up in production technologies and supply chain quality making it nearly impossible to maintain over time any kind of meaningful technical superiority.

Your brand is your secret sauce, and its emotional connectivity means everything to the success of your customer relationships and value. When you are hyper focused only in brand technology and processes, you can end up working at cross purposes with who is really running the business – your consumer.

Guidance on higher purpose, deeper meaning

How is it that some brands enjoy a solid foundation of passionate consumer advocacy and ambassadorship that enables the holy grail of marketing – word of mouth and social proof? Those brand minders know the business must invoke a higher purpose that transcends the product itself. People want something important to believe in.

Having a fantastic product experience is now table stakes. Competitive advantage lies in how brands align themselves with the beliefs, values and lifestyle interests their core users hold dear. Thus, higher purpose isn’t a nice to do, it is indeed mission critical.

Emergent started exploring higher purpose strategy years ago and we’ve become experts in how this strategic platform is best developed for client brands through our unique Brand Sustainability Analysis process. A stronger brand and inspired community of users results from having more to offer than simply a product inside a package. Want to be more meaningful to consumers? Then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.

This work comprises the core value proposition we bring to client marketing planning, ahead of the creative work to build compelling, powerful and emotionally resonant brand stories. This is all informed by a brand voice having more going for it than ad-centric cleverness in talking up features and benefits.

Given formulations, recipes, ingredient strategies are ultimately not all that wildly different brand to brand, if the brand voice is focused solely on product attributes, it inadvertently feeds sameness and commoditization in the category. The Beyond and Impossible burger formulations bare similarity as plant-based meat so the story instead is about taste indulgence and sustainability bona fides.

A touch for emotional storytelling

Words matter. Emotion sits at the front door of engagement for the very reason people are feeling creatures who think, not thinking creatures who feel. Emotion is a key driver of actions taken by consumers on the path to purchase because the non-linear, sub-conscious side of the brain is operating the levers of behavior.

  • Knowing this, we build message maps with emotive words and stories that play to feelings more than facts. It is the feeling consumers have in the presence of your brand that tips them to purchase rather than analytical, logic-based arguments.

Imagine the pet food company that shares the emotional stories of pet transformation – pet lives that have been impacted and improved through the higher quality food they are ingesting. Compare that pound for pound with fact-based messaging on protein percentages or nutritional specsmanship and the impact on real engagement becomes crystal clear. Emotion wins every time.

Working to amplify symbolism and signaling

Purchases these days are largely symbolic flags of what consumers want the outside world to believe about them and what they care about. The symbols you are using on packaging, in your advertising and content become the visual shorthand consumers are looking for based on what they believe is important. For example:

  • Sustainability
  • Dietary outcomes like weight management and energy
  • Health and wellness

People are visual creatures so use of visual symbolism on package, at the store shelf, in the web site are triggers that offer a form of signaling the consumer holds onto that aligns with their desires and preferences. Mapping a symbolism platform should be part of your marketing partner’s scope of work.

Brand experiences

Actions speak louder than words and for that reason, brand experiences become a significantly important tool in bringing the brand closer to users.

  • Culinary events, for example, allow people to get hands on with their passion for creativity, taste experiences and indulgences.
  • Health, wellness and fitness events amplify the interest in taking better care of one’s self and investing in self-improvement.
  • Music is incredibly powerful for a brand association in moments of deep emotional connection.
  • Educational events that provide useful lifestyle guidance or remove perceived risk through sampling lead to brand bonding moments.

To the extent brands have an opportunity to act as consumer coach and guide, it puts the brand in the right role of advisor rather than brand storytelling hero – the position rightfully owned by the consumer. The brand is Yoda to your user Luke Skywalker.

Trust creation and risk removal

Consumer purchase behaviors are 99.99999 percent of the time informed by their overwhelming need to avoid making a bad decision. No matter what you say, consumers will stay away if they perceive risk is at stake in a purchase.

Risk avoidance is a strong barrier to trial. Removing risk involves the following:

  • Using the voices of outside credible experts to validate what you want people to believe.
  • Bringing the powerful verification of real people testimonials in social channel posting.
  • Familiarity bolsters trust, so awareness building is part of this process.
  • Consistency in your behaviors and policies that place the customer first – they need to believe you are always acting in their best interests.
  • Honesty is partially a voice and language effort but must be informed by a willingness to own mistakes – this is hard to do but it humanizes the brand.

Trust strategy should be an integral and fundamental component of strategic planning.

This eco-system of services, resources and programs comprises the highest and best use of your agency partnership. It might seem odd not to include excellence in communications tactics such as earned and social media. But for the most part agencies with a strong track record should excel in varying degrees with these fundamental practice areas. The work profiled above, however, is what separates the average from the exceptional and deploys the most powerful tools available to build brand value and consumer engagement.

If you are currently looking for fresh ideas and perspective for your business, use this link to open an informal conversation about your needs.

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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