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Pandemic unleashes cultural changes

Context is Your Marketing Super Power

June 28th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Social community 0 comments on “Context is Your Marketing Super Power”

How are you deploying it?

The incredible disruption spawned by the global pandemic is creating an important opportunity to reframe the marketing conversation around your brand. During difficult times people are more receptive to brands making bolder moves. Uncertainty provides the latitude to experiment, in the context of answering cultural changes that are having a profound impact on how people view the world around them and what they care about in times of change.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Cultural shifts create influential moments when consumers are open to new ideas. Behavior change, which is hard to accomplish, becomes more attainable. What we know about people is the role that perceived risk has in their decisions. When a change is adopted by many, it can quickly become the default choice for the very reason human beings are a copying species. Popularity provides reassurance.

Permission operates in the same way. Witness what is happening now with work at home. Companies, especially in the tech sector, are making this a permanent adaptation and by virtue of doing so signaling a new acceptable default for how business will operate. If it were merely served up as an optional choice (as it has been for years!) the adoption curve falls immediately because of the perceived risks of not being in the office and any stigma that might accompany that perception. Companies that offer unlimited vacation see the same outcome as people don’t suddenly leave for extended periods for the same reasons – fear their career will be compromised and so the “choice” isn’t activated. Averting negative experiences is a highly motivating and universally common behavioral trait among consumers.

Human beings are hard-wired to avoid personal risk

The over-arching impact of COVID-19 on the value proposition of health and wellness moves the interest in healthy lifestyle from aspirational to practical to necessity. As we’ve said previously, Health is the New Wealth, essentially means there are life-maintaining, risk-mitigating reasons to shore up the immune system. This is having an impact on food and beverage brand growth in the coming year. The default for health and wellness has now changed – it’s visceral and existential. This also helps sponsor an emotionally charged marketing environment.

It’s important to note that humans are not governed by algorithms. We do not make decisions based on rational thus predictable assessments of facts. If we did, 1 + 1 = 2 could be applied to marketing activity with assured outcomes. Instead – we are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel. Yet for some reason right alongside the birth of digital marketing platforms and the ability to amass data, we have become too preoccupied with marketing plumbing at the expense of paying closer attention to the (human behavior) water inside.

Psychological insights are simply more powerful and unilaterally effective than any form of technological or engineering advantage in products and service marketing. Said another way, a terrific well-designed product with subpar marketing behind it can fail – while a lesser product with better and more humanly relevant marketing strategies in support will win the race. How can this be? …Because now we can create high levels of satisfaction by knowing what truly ”floats the consumer’s boat,” more so than any advantage created by a less emotionally-compelling ingredient innovation or product feature.

Marketing is not a form of cosmetic surgery to apply a thin layer of magic fairy dust on the top of a product that succeeds on its own merits just because it is well crafted. Dyson vacuum was renowned as an engineering marvel, yet its suction power wasn’t really the big leap forward over other conventional models. Its sexy design created perceptions of new and modern (visual cue), while the ability to actually see dirt in a clear cup provided enormous levels of personal accomplishment and emotional satisfaction to people who could observe the outcome of their floor-cleaning efforts for the first time. The marketing behind Dyson was masterful in elevating the value of having one in the house as a symbol of being progressive and innovative while embracing the fashion of an edgy, differentiated design.

The most important move to make on the successful marketing path is….

Our job (and yours) is to identify the single most powerful motivation driving customer behavior in a client’s category. Armed with this understanding we place the consumer at the center of planning, working to apply our understanding of context, perceptions and emotions that are tied to their behaviors. We translate that insight into more effective communication.

Everyday people show their peculiarities, whims and irrational behaviors, wishes and fears. Armed with this knowledge we’re able to blaze new trails for brands that want to and can be more relevant to consumer needs. This happens because the brand’s deeper meaning and values now operate in sync with what people believe and care about.

In this unprecedented marketing environment, here are some questions to consider:

  • How can your brand contribute to the cultural conversation going on right now?
  • What are your users’ shifting attitudes about themselves?
  • What higher purpose can your brand fulfill that matches the beliefs consumers value the most?
  • With health and wellness now more important than ever to people, how does this play out in your strategic plan?

You have permission now to experiment outside the rational comfort zone, offering new reasons-to-believe that are tied to deeper meaning and values that transcend the product itself. A small example of the human emotional condition at work here: why is it that consumers perceive a car drives and performs better when it is clean? Not really rational is it!

We work to change the way people see your brand

Our role as creative communicators is to pay attention to the consumer who buys our clients’ product or service. Perception often leads reality and our job is to manage those perceptions, knowing that the reality is never far away in a digital world where anything that can be known, will be known.

The four horsemen of an effective strategic marketing plan are:

  • Context (in which it is consumed)
  • Environment (in which it is sold)
  • Cultural setting (that drives surrounding beliefs)
  • Who says it (the voice employed to build trust)

Harkening back to our earlier point about risk aversion and disaster avoidance, trust might be the most important consideration to directly address in the strategic plan. Trust drives purchase behavior. It can also disappear quickly if not managed with great care.

This explains why social media is such an important channel to deploy strategically. For the very reason the voices involved are consumers and not the company. People believe other people long before they’ll accept what a business claims about its product. Social proof serves as verification and validation of what you want people to understand and accept about your brand.

In a tough marketing environment, trusted brands will succeed and it doesn’t happen organically. Trust is acquired and earned over time. This is perhaps the most powerful argument for investing in brand building. Consumers trust those they know and believe. They also trust the wisdom of crowds and translate socially accepted choice as ‘vetted and approved’.

Now is the time to step beyond your comfort zone and consider bolder moves. If logic were the only defining path-to-purchase then every brand in a category would be on equal footing. However, that isn’t the case because logic doesn’t respect what we know about people and how they behave.

Your super power is the ability to embed context and relevance in brand communication. Emergent can help you navigate and design more engaging brand outreach and active social communities. Let us know if you’re interested in finding a fresh perspective.

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.

Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience

May 11th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand messaging, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Higher Purpose, Social community, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience”

A remarkable pandemic-authored condition

Don’t miss this chance to truly connect with your users.

The stay-at-home orders continue to shake-up every aspect of life including behaviors around social channel screen time. Your brand users and shoppers no longer go on-line. Instead they now live on-line. Kitchens, for their part, have become erstwhile home offices and educational centers to accommodate work and digitally-enabled classrooms for the kids.

  • How are you responding to this development?
  • How does his impact your social strategy?
  • What moves are you making to fill the need and address the opportunity for engagement?

We will answer these questions shortly, but first a little texture on what’s happening.

The blurring between work, education and leisure has spawned a behavior shift – social channels have moved from an occasional choice to a routine necessity as people seek  information – and guidance – and community – and social contact – and entertainment.

Has there ever been a time when your brand was presented with a near captive audience looking for useful content? The answer is unique to the pandemic, a historic first that is transforming life, health, commerce, time, attention and all the behaviors associated with it. This is precedent setting and now offers an unusual opportunity for brands and businesses to be of greater service and value, knowing that consumption of content is likely to be much higher and therefore more valuable than ever before.

  • A recent survey from Tin Man showed social channel use had risen 50% by the close of April 2020. Sixty percent of the population is on Facebook at least once (or more) a day and 27% are in Instagram. Daily screen time averages are up 50 to 75%.

Frequency and media choice = positive outcome

According to a social media report from Co-Schedule, brands that publish 16 or more social posts a month got almost 3.5 times more traffic and 4.5 times more leads than businesses that publish less often. Further, we observe video takes on added importance as a business generating medium with 64% of viewers more likely to buy a product online after viewing.

Your optimal social strategy

First and foremost, this is not the time to withdraw, go silent, retreat or otherwise disappear from the social-verse. Yes, messaging strategy has changed but the fundamental desire of people to connect and a need for interaction has never been greater.

The litmus test of sound strategy in social media revolves around this axiom: the brand should live in service of improving the health, wellbeing and happiness of its users. Social channels are not just transactional environments – and especially at this time, shouldn’t be managed as such.

This isn’t the time and place for a consumer hard-sell and we’ve now entered an era where overt brand self-promotion doesn’t produce results anyway. Consumers hold all the engagement cards and have shown themselves quick to tune out when the narrative isn’t relevant to them and their lifestyle aspirations.

We are now doing business in The Relationship Economy, founded on reciprocity and usefulness.

In the same Co-Schedule report, 21 ‘best in class’ examples of great content were profiled revealing one common element that shown brightly through all of them. In every case, the best content provided valuable information, guidance, utility and direction to the readers.

The examples noted were devoid of a strict self-serving narrative, nor grounded in product feature/benefit selling. To ensure the brand stays on the right social content path, follow this guardrail to keep the messaging on course: recognize that the consumer and their needs are always the hero of your storytelling and the role of the brand is to serve as expert guide and coach. Context is everything!

Yes, it is ok to talk about the product or deliver information about a retail promotion, but this should be no more than 30% of your content calendar. Know that the best material you will create is going to be a reflection of the lifestyle needs and aspirations of the people who comprise your fan base.

  • Glossier, a beauty product business built entirely on social channel engagement, is deservedly famous for creating content about their customers’ interests and needs first. They have become wildly successful as a result.

Social proof and community

Social channels are not one-way conversations. The most powerful asset you have is social proof – content created by your community that serves to verify and validate what you want people to believe about product benefits, shopping experiences or the lifestyle you advocate.

Testimonials are like gold. People will believe other people before they will ascribe credibility and truth to statements made by brands and businesses. It is important to encourage conversation, interaction, feedback and discourse from social community participants. You can do this by inviting it and asking questions.

  • An example: people adore their pets and will jump at opportunities to talk about their personal and anecdotal stories around lifestyle experiences, recovery from illnesses, behavior training tips and ideas, and opportunities to share photos and videos of their four-legged family members.

Pandemic specific social content guidance

Consumer culture has changed as a result of this unprecedented event. It has altered preferences and mindset. Here are some points to consider in social content creation.

  1. An empathetic and more human voice is essential in the content you publish.
  2. As a general subject platform, health and wellness is the top concern for people now and thus relevant to the material you develop.
  3. People feel out of control of the world around them. Provide guidance and ideas that help them regain a sense of control. Taking charge of personal health and wellness is how to do it.
  4. Loss of confidence is a thing. Anything you can do to reassure people about the future and give them confidence about improvements in the road ahead will be welcomed.
  5. Your brand should be guided by a higher purpose (a mission that transcends commerce and selling things), deeper meaning and shared values with your consumer. Know this matters and they are paying closer attention to your words and actions.

It’s extraordinary that an event like this could alternatively create an environment where people spend so much extra time online and in social communities. People yearn for contact and guidance, information that provides hope and helps them navigate the incredible changes they have experienced. You are no longer just selling products and stocking merchandise, instead you are in the deeper meaning business and have a much more important role to play in your customers’ lives.

It’s an important calling and comes with responsibilities. That said, it brings forward a unique opportunity to form relationships with your fans and followers that will last well beyond the current crisis. Now is the time to upgrade, enhance and invest in social channel outreach.

Use this link to let us know if you need help building the right social channel strategy, and content that will inform and endear your users.

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.

Building Trust in the Midst of Fear

March 15th, 2020 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Pet food, Restaurant trends, Social community, Social media, Transformation 1 comment on “Building Trust in the Midst of Fear”

Efforts to create, innovate and communicate will inform your brand’s future

You’ve undoubtedly run across the ‘dystopian future’ movie storyline, usually brought on by some cataclysmic disaster with intrepid or hysterical survivors running into a grocery store, only to be greeted by empty shelves while wading through torn packaging detritus everywhere. I had this movie-like experience only last night at the Mariano’s supermarket nearby. I witnessed the fear-driven cart Olympics mad dash as aisle after aisle of products were emptied save a lone, bruised apple and a dented, torn box of cereal left dangling precariously on an otherwise barren shelf.

Uncertainty and media drama are partners in the perceptual stew that pushes people into behaviors normally reserved for cinematic storytelling. Fear of the unknown grips as the house now achieves safe haven sanctuary status and toilet paper becomes one of the most elusive, rare and sought-after commodities in the nation.

Keep Calm and Carry On

In 1940 at the height of the Blitzkrieg (The Blitz) that showered Great Britain with bombs in the night, dropped indiscriminately on London neighborhoods, the government released its now famous poster Keep Calm and Carry On. This statement became a dominant theme embraced by incredibly brave British citizens in the face of unrelenting catastrophe and sharpened their resolve to weather the life-threatening storm.

Right now, today, you have an opportunity to help your customers Keep Calm and discover the opportunities presented by a large dose of enforced family time and homebound adventures and experiences. Creative, innovative thinking and generous outreach is the required skillset.

Lemonade from lemons

The foodservice industry is taking it on the chin. In Seattle, the hardest hit city in the nation from COVID-19, business has virtually disappeared from restaurants as people remain home. Arguably Seattle’s finest dining establishment, Canlis, an iconic example of culinary quality that has led the dining scene there for decades, elected to close.

Chef-owner Tom Douglas told Restaurant Business magazine revenue was off by 90%, which might as well be 100%. Nonetheless, Douglas’ response was instructive to us all. He announced the opening of three concepts based out of Canlis kitchens that will serve the takeout, drive through and home delivery market segments. The Bagel Shed will offer breakfast options; Drive on Thru will provide lunchtime burgers, veggie melts and salad; Family Meal will offer a rotating menu of dinner entrees and a bottle of wine delivered to your door. A creative deployment of solutions and assets that helps keep the team employed while answering the opportunity for off-premise consumption business.

Salve for Uncertainty

Communication, and lots of it, is required in these unprecedented times. Your motivation is not only to inform users of what your business is doing to keep the flow of goods and services they need safely in motion, but also to express care and concern for their health, wellbeing and happiness.

The schools my daughters attend are now closed. My youngest is a dancer, and her classes and performances have been cancelled. My oldest is an ice skater and the rink is shut and practices stopped. What we have going is each other, our wonderful dogs, more time together and adventurous spirits.

How can your brand operate as coach and guide for family activities, more hands-on experiences with the pets, and a renewed focus on home-prepared meals? With no sports, no concerts, no large group events of any kind, the marketplace may well be listening and consumers more open to engagement than ever before. There are certainly wayyy fewer distractions competing for precious attention.

Your brand’s ability to operate as an enabler and resource is important in this environment. Social communities can become outlets of shared experience. In Chicago, the Nextdoor online community bulletin board is on fire as people share thoughts, ideas and concerns on the changes occurring before us. One of the most active conversations is around the status of fresh food supplies in local supermarkets and guidance on who has what.

People want to share and engage with each other

We have arrived at a new era where businesses increasingly understand they are about more than manufacturing, retailing and commerce. Companies have discovered their growing role in authoring the greater good. This self-discovery opens the door to building a more human and approachable brand that understands relationships with users are increasingly like real, human friendships and the natural reciprocity that exists in that personal dynamic.

When brands talk, walk and behave in a more human and relate-able manner, they become more resonant and trustworthy. You have been handed an extraordinary opportunity to help people in the midst of a trying storm. Empathy is a great characteristic and will serve you well as people embrace your voice of reason and support.

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.

WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, digital tools, food retail strategy, Food service, Social community, Social media, social media marketing 0 comments on “WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?”

Brands look to better manage their own destiny

As we’ve stated many times here at Emergent, the brand that gets closest to the customer wins. Yet a form of strategic separation now descending on the food marketing universe has made it more challenging for brands to manage how that consumer closeness is achieved. These same conditions help contribute to the collapse of traditional media marketing models (about scale and control) often deployed by legacy brands to build and maintain consumer relationships.

As a result, we believe what’s ahead for CPG food may well include a large helping of direct-to-consumer outreach efforts. E-commerce growth has already redefined the business landscape, giving consumers a comfort level with buying products from home.

Retail isn’t going away, online or off, but we think a measurable percentage of the business overall may indeed move to direct-to-consumer platforms.

Meantime escalating brand participation in the “walled garden” of rented audiences in major social channels, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, has also conveyed relationship control to these platform intermediaries. On any given day, the decisions made by these social media giants can be a good thing or bad as their policy changes impact what brands can and cannot do on their platforms.

  • Brands, now forced to reckon with the shift of business to e-commerce, are finding the complexity of cross channel marketing and online engagement has already worked to snuff out the last embers of mass media’s flame. Disappearing with mass media’s grip is the brand’s ability to efficiently leapfrog various forms of retail or other digital gatekeepers to capture consumer brand equity and preference.

Algorithm alarm bell – now what?

Food and beverage companies working to implement their brand-building strategies in social channels find themselves challenged once again, as the behemoth community aggregators like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube adjust algorithms and feed policies making it harder to organically scale audience attention and reach.

In January, the tide turned (the second time since 2016) as Facebook announced yet another round of changes that favor posts from friends and family while diminishing organic post distribution from brands and publishers. Larger, mega-influencers – who must use Pages rather than personal Facebook accounts – will face a similar audience squeeze.

More regulated content policies put greater pressure on brands in social channels to up their shareable post quality game. We believe though, these restrictive conditions will add more value to building direct consumer relationships. This means, thoughtfully reconsidering how best to connect with consumers and deploy tools that sit outside the control of social channel policy moves, through owned channels like Blogs and email (e-newsletter).

Consequently, we believe the model for food and beverage brand building may change in the next three to five years. Pepsico currently projects their annual e-commerce sales to be north of a $1 billion across direct, retailer-owned and pure play (Amazon) e-commerce channels.

Of note, many of the new and emerging brands now grabbing the marketing spotlight in food, got their start in the direct-to-consumer space, where they built a loyal fan following before venturing into retail channel distribution.

  • A classic example: in the personal care category, online brand Harry’s disrupted the legacy razor blade industry by answering consumer frustration over runaway price increases. They successfully constructed a direct-to-consumer subscription model that helped Harry’s deliver a more affordable, high-quality alternative. The new Harry’s brand story, alongside rival Dollar Shave Club, helped end Gillette’s dominance.

As consumer contentment with buying online continues to expand in adjacent businesses, Harry’s recently secured added equity investment to fund another bellwether expansion. This time into other personal care, household and baby products categories that may naturally fit into a subscription model.

Bottom line: selling directly allows the brand unfiltered and unfettered access to consumers. As such it enables a direct flow of conversation without the unexpected shifts that are occurring in third party social channels due to conflicting business interests and priorities.

Behavior changes occurring behind the curtain

We see the shift to e-commerce as an outcome of evolutionary progress – meaning anything that adds measurably to consumer convenience and satisfaction is going to get its day in the sun.

During the last decade consumers spent 12 percent less time shopping, according to Jared Koerten, senior food analyst with Euromonitor International. “Consumers are spending less time shopping (while) looking for efficiencies and ways to save time,” he said. The result is fewer conventional shopping trips while online ordering continues to accelerate.

E-commerce and the digital communications environment will continue to be a major focus of brand marketing strategies. Consumers see the value in reallocating their spare time from shopping trip to other passions and pursuits. Be that as it may, other changes are occurring in the digital universe that impact how closer consumer relationships are incubated.

Emergent’s guidance on optimizing social channel strategy:

  1. Social algorithm changes enhance the valuable role of smaller (nano) influencers and the content they create, while amplifying the need to ensure that influencer relationships are truly founded on aligned interests and subject matter relevance.
  2. Social channel policy changes that depress organic distribution and engagement will necessitate yet again, more pay-to-play activity to boost posts.
  3. There will be diversification of outreach strategies to include more investment in direct paths of communication through Blogs and email.
  4. Rise of User Generated Content as a key component of social media marketing strategy. This tactic helps sidestep the policy changes and hits the right notes on authenticity and value to brand community participants.
  5. In case you’re wondering what form of content ranks highest in shares on social channels: Infographics.

Social channel policy changes and the dynamics of e-commerce may favor a new look for brand marketing that leans in on going direct. With it comes great responsibility in how these interactions are managed – so it doesn’t appear to be just a transactional proposition.

Help over hype – always.

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

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

 

 

 

Relevance Drives the Recipe for Social Media Results

February 13th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Public Relations, Social community, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Relevance Drives the Recipe for Social Media Results”

Social media has emerged as one of the most important channels of communication for brands and retailers – in no small measure due to high levels of consumer participation on these platforms and in these communities. Fueling consumer traction is an opportunity for two-way communication; a dialogue rather than monologue. It is a more human and interactive environment – and thus adds value to the consumer’s life and experience by providing unique ways to engage.

  • Of note, social media participation accounts for at least one of every three minutes people spend on the Internet, according to Global Web Index.

We already know that consumers prefer to get information, guidance and ideas from voices they deem trustworthy. Social channels help fill this need as a trusted source, especially when the proportion of content generated by consumers themselves (trusted) is correctly balanced with posts created by brands (not as trusted).

The question we often get from clients starts with how to extract optimal effectiveness from social channel program investments.

Here’s the Emergent recipe for improved social channel results: 

1. Competing successfully for social attention through relevance and utility

Rule number one: social is not a conventional media platform for pushing out self-promotional sales messaging. The great divide between social channels contributing measurably to growth vs. not, begins with the relevance of content and value to the consumer’s lifestyle passions and interests. Social discourse is not advertising.

  • While this may seem intuitively obvious, we observe any number of brands using social as a traditional media play, dominated by product promotion and transactional messages.

The first step towards social media engagement success begins with mining insight into the lives and aspirations of the audiences brands wish to serve. Ideally consumer insight research is part of the overall marketing plan and can be deployed to gain a better understanding of what a brand’s core users care about. Better to truly know them rather than base the messaging map on hunches and assumptions.

From this baseline insight, we build personas – detailed descriptions of consumer segments that make up the population of users either existing or desired. The personas then inform content strategy and help design a community experience founded on relevance, and added meaning to consumer interests and lifestyle.

This approach helps guide community managers to optimize the entire social encounter around core consumers, and in doing so, feeds engagement levels and social’s holy grail – content sharing. When content delivers intrinsic value to the audience, often in an entertaining way, it gets shared and thus multiplies reach.

2. High quality content wins, every time

According to user generated content platform company Stackla, 86 percent of consumers say authenticity matters in deciding what brands they like and prefer. Additionally, 60 percent of consumers believe content from a friend or family member will influence their purchase decisions. Comparatively only 23 percent say they are influenced by content from a celebrity.

User generated content (UGC) is another key component – again founded on the fundamental construct of trusted source. UGC should be embedded as an important component of social strategy, bringing in the voices of real people and their stories as a powerful foundation of validation and proof.

  • Consumers believe each other’s experiences with a brand first and foremost; more so than self-promotional content from a brand asserting the benefits and performance of its products and services.

Balanced content strategy enhances engagement. As such, to enhance overall content effectiveness, social channel management should address an apportioned mix of:

  • User generated
  • Brand created
  • Curated third-party content

Within this content eco-system is a formula we follow to plan content on a calendar basis. We recommend that roughly 80 percent of the content track message, topic and tone that are inspirational, educational, useful or fun. The remaining 20 percent of the calendar can be devoted to brand promotions and offers.

Of note, we know that quality content is far more important than quantity in social channels. It simply takes more thought, time and effort to create material that truly benefits other people and adds value to them than inconsequential frequency-fillers. Even when aggregating user generated material it’s important to curate the posts that are interesting and informative from anything that’s not offering a coaching or relevant entertaining moment.

3. Content creation guidance

HubSpot reports that visual content is 40 times more likely to be shared on social media than other forms. This data tracks with evidence that Blog posts using photos garner much higher readership than those without. This helps explain the out-sized popularity of Instagram – especially for food and healthy lifestyle brands.

In general:

  • Show readers the lifestyle they aspire to live. If its outdoor adventure they crave, then you know where to go. If they’re kitchen commanders, help build their culinary adventure.
  • Reveal the emotion under your product story. The devotion of craftsman to craftsmanship is an emotional journey people want to take. Talk about your commitments, standards and beliefs.
  • Inject some art into product photography. Make your photos more interesting by thinking creatively about the setting and how to imbue the image with greater meaning or emotion.

4. Influencers and influencing

At the start of this post we described the anchor from which all audience blessings flow: trust. Trusted voices are the key component to securing belief among consumers. Today’s consumers are understandably skeptical, and their ‘trust threshold’ is that much higher.

Brands are no longer free to simply assert claims of superiority or better experience. Other respected sources need to corroborate what you hope to convey. Influencers are a part of this strategy.

Bloggers and third-party subject matter experts add another dimension to content plans, bringing borrowed equity and credibility to the table. So it makes sense to build and nurture a universe of relevant influencers in your category. These voices can help verify what you want people to believe, while expanding the reach of your message through their networks.

The 50 or so Bloggers who are currently part of our Emergent Media Network operate in this role as added credible voices and authorities. Our obligation in this symbiotic relationship is to bring useful, relevant, well-researched and credible story ideas to the table. Quality in equals quality out.

Social strategy is, by definition, an integration of content marketing, community building, nurturing and the aggregation of user-generated stories. When built around insight about the audience and their needs, with content they care about, an opportunity exists to earn permission for a deeper relationship – based on mutual respect and trust.

Social is, well, social.

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

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

The Power and Influence of User Generated Content

November 27th, 2017 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Food Trend, Social community, Social media, User Generated Content 0 comments on “The Power and Influence of User Generated Content”

UGC has greater influence on purchase behavior than brand-built

Marketing food and beverage brands these days can feel a bit like playing darts with the lights off – trying to hit the mark of engagement when unsure of the path to this goal. A recent global consumer study sponsored by Stackla and conducted by Market Cube, helps illuminate the pathway to delivering the kind of content that resonates with consumers. Turns out it is stories created by their contemporaries, friends and family that matters most.

The old era of interruption-style, one-way marketing has been dethroned. We now live in a content-driven world. In an effort to reach increasingly elusive consumers, brands have become self-publishers and active participants in their own social channel communities.

  • People tend to tune out and avoid anything that looks or sounds like conventional marketing, so it is vital that new thinking be applied when designing brand building content strategies.

That said consumers have also become more savvy and sophisticated in assessing the credibility of content based, in part, on the source of that information.

What kind of content is most influential to purchase decisions?

  • Eighty-six percent of consumers believe that authenticity is important when deciding about brands they will purchase, according to the study.
  • Yet 57 percent of consumers think that less than half of the brand-produced content out there is truly authentic.

What does authentic mean to consumers?

User generated content is seen as three times more authentic when it comes from friends, family and other consumers rather than content produced by the brand itself or through the voice of a celebrity spokesperson. (We think use of celebrities can be deemed credible if great care is given to genuine and natural connections to the brand, and when organic and believable messaging tone is achieved.)

People choose to believe other people like themselves first because there’s a perceived higher threshold of honesty and integrity than company-built material. Which, in the eyes of the beholder, may be seen as serving only a transactional agenda.

Here are some highlights from the research:

  • What kind of content is most authentic? Created by consumers: 60 percent. Created by brands: 20 percent.
  • 52 percent of people say they post on social media at least once a month about products they’ve purchased.
  • 39 percent of consumers say they post about food and beverages at least two times a month.
  • 76 percent of people will post on social media (mostly Facebook) after a positive experience purchasing a food or beverage product, or dining out.
  • 70 percent of the time consumers can identify an image created by a brand rather than a consumer.
  • 20 percent of consumers have un-followed a brand on social media because they thought the content was too corporate and self-serving.
  • Authenticity matters to 90 percent of Millennials, 85 percent of Gen-Xers and 80 percent of Boomers

User generated content is a highly intrusive, credible and effective form of engagement because it respects the consumer desire for honesty and integrity above all.

The litmus test for success here comes back to a fundamental understanding of what people believe. Building trust is paramount in brand communication. The voices of users and family members work more effectively here because it flows from a desire to be helpful; it’s not self-serving. For brand-created content, the aforementioned tone and spirit should be factored into messaging to help assure it conveys a human, real and believable approach that doesn’t come across as a hard sell.

The testimonial voices of happy consumers can be one of the most powerful and persuasive of tools at your brand’s disposal. So help them tell their story. Encourage this behavior in your social channels. Feature the voices of your fans and ambassadors. It’s the equivalent of a laser-guided dart hitting the bulls-eye of engagement.

The five-point UGC checklist:

  1. Create rewards for fans that share photos, videos and experiences
  2. Offer incentives for users who share content in their own networks
  3. Develop promotions and contests to solicit content and amplify distribution
  4. Embed UGC content in your email campaigns
  5. Integrate shared authentic customer experiences at your web site

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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