Posts in social media marketing

Media placement strategy

Six Secrets of Earned Media Stardom

April 20th, 2021 Posted by editorial relevance, Marketing Strategy, media placement, media relations, media strategy, Public Relations, publicity, social media marketing 0 comments on “Six Secrets of Earned Media Stardom”

Path to game-changing glory for your brand

You may have witnessed first-hand the remarkable power of earned media, otherwise known as publicity, to quickly change the trajectory of a company’s business. When a story about a brand or business catches fire in earned channels, it can become a cultural phenomenon, moving the needle in ways that paid outreach could never hope to accomplish.

Ask any CEO or CMO and there will be a lingering interest in securing a major media piece in a blue-chip publication, digital news channel or TV news property. A top story in the Wall Street Journal. Cover of TIME magazine. TODAY show interview. Feature at Fast Company or Wired. Bloomberg news in-depth report. A Buzzfeed distribution build.

This level of respected media attention most often is not a happy accident. It is the outcome of a considered strategy conducted with skill, diligence and persistence. After many years of participating in earned media outcomes at this level, we have distilled the primary ingredients for success into six facets of media orchestration. Done in concert, this eco-system offers the roadmap to successful results.

The caveat: it is the integration of these pieces that helps achieve the objective. Taken apart and separated, the hill to climb gets much steeper and the outcomes less certain – and could result with your brand being relegated to a mention in a story placed by a brand that made the effort to build the piece properly.

Non-transactional media attention (not paid for like advertising) can’t be ordered up from central casting or invoked as a magical mandate for the PR team. The approach must remain ever respectful of the environment it sits in – an arena where reporting, newsworthiness, editorial relevance and objectivity hold sway. There are rules to understand and follow.

Six Red Carpet Moves to the Editorial Media Spotlight

  1. Casting the larger story and bigger picture context where the brand has relevance

Unless you’re running a trillion-dollar juggernaut company where every move you make is likely to be in the headlines, the fundamental starting point for earned media is driven by strength of the story concept. What larger issue is your brand/category/industry connected to, such as an identifiable link to cultural shift or a sea change in public sentiment? Is there an over-arching trend getting traction or an emerging social issue where the brand has a role? In other words, your internal story isn’t the only part of the story – rather it’s how your internal story connects with a larger issue, trend or cultural moment. Here are some examples:

  • Food choice linked to impacts on climate threat.
  • Pandemic influence on the role of health and wellness.
  • Decline of brand trust and rise of transparency.
  • Global food scarcity connected to new technology solutions.
  • Human need for control, safety and security amidst unseen and lethal dangers.
  • Connection of pet ownership to elevating human health and wellness.
  • Presence of food fraud/mislabeling in the midst of consumer demand for honesty and authenticity.
  • Emergence of new food making technologies in an era of back-to-the farm preferences.
  • Impact of COVID 19 conditions/isolation on mental health and lifestyle behaviors.
  • Sea change of preference for higher quality, fresh food on legacy processed food making.
  • The wallop of sustainability demands on supply chains and agriculture practices.

The key is targeting a larger scope issue where the brand has a role and a voice. This creates context for a bigger story that offers greater depth than a simple product announcement.

2. PR media team knowledge matters greatly – of consumer, product, company and category details, methods and behaviors

Earned media is a bespoke business driven by one-on-one contact with media gatekeepers. The question you are answering in each interaction with a decider: are you showing up as a credible source for well-researched story material?

To do this with skill the PR media team must know everything about the company’s products, processes, standards, beliefs, behaviors, strengths. Have they done the homework such that literally any question can be fielded fully and knowledgeably?

The team must know the details of the category where the business competes, what other brands are doing, their approach to product solutions and different consumer cohorts served by different brands.

In short, the PR media team needs to know as much about the business as the CMO or CEO. This requires a trusted relationship where the PR media experts are fully in the know of what’s going on behind the corporate curtain.

3. Editorial syntax deployed in all materials created for media consumption

All various backgrounding materials, fact sheets and releases built for reporter outreach and pitching purposes should be created with an editorial voice. They should be devoid of shameless self-promotion, unsubstantiated claims, flowery quotes, unverified marketing assertions, hyperbole and corporate speak. Everything should be cast in the context of how a reporter would likely approach the story.

If it walks and talks like an editorial story, then it’s a story. Anything else is deemed promotion and won’t survive the vetting process – and instead is likely viewed as more appropriate for a paid ad placement.

Credibility of the PR media team as a reliable source is at stake here. Proper construction of the materials signals understanding of what reporters, producers are doing and how a story should (will) be constructed.

4. Importance of third-party quote-able sources

There’s no such thing as a story where the brand is the only quoted source. When the story is built around a larger context of an issue or trend, it is vital that credible subject matter experts are enlisted to add validation, dimension and texture to the story premise.

If the PR team doesn’t make the effort to assemble expert sources, the reporter or editor will do it separately – which could take the story off track or add factors that capsize the desired messaging outcome. The ability to provide the relevant sources provides an opportunity to help influence the shape of the narrative, and to verify key essential pieces of the story arc.

If the story you’re building centers on the impact of food choice on climate change, having experts on climate impact and agriculture is fundamental to the story premise. This again signals to the media deciders that the PR team has done their homework. The expert verification of story elements provides greater confidence to editors that the details of the piece will hold up under scrutiny.

5. Deploying vertical media build

Big, bold feature media story placements with blue chip media properties don’t just fall like manna from heaven. There is a ladder to climb as the story moves up higher in the media food chain. When the story is placed first in vertical media settings relevant to the business category where the company competes, it creates a credible environment and testing ground where the story elements are played out.

Coverage in vertical media provides the larger, national media outlets confidence that the story is:

  • Important and coverage-worthy
  • Has impact on the business/industry overall
  • Creates a structure example of how the story flows
  • Demonstrates the authority, knowledge and value of quoted sources

National media do not consider industry verticals to be competitive so the fact you can provide links to these placements serves as supporting, credible evidence of the storyline, not a weakening of the value of the news they break.

Of note, arranging exclusives can at times be advantageous on the path to wider recognition. Some media like Bloomberg News are bellwethers for others and a major story breaking there will feed into other outlets creating a viral effect.

6. Experience of the players involved

If you have enough time in the saddle working with reporters and editors you come to appreciate the dynamics of how they do what they do. This pays benefits in direct conversations with deciders, the sequence of events once a reporter expresses interest, and the details of how materials are worded and constructed.

There is simply no substitute for hands on experience in this endeavor. The more seasoned the PR media team is, the better this goes. Until you have experienced “no” a few times you just don’t acquire a sensitivity for the mechanics and rules of how earned media works.

This isn’t just about who you know. Relationships can be beneficial, but the real acid test is the quality of the story the PR Team crafts and presents, and how well it is supported with credible source material (studies, reports) and reliable expert sources. Reporters know who the fluff pitchers are. They are more likely to devote their time and attention to brands represented by PR media teams demonstrating a commitment to journalistic standards and newsworthy reporting.

This isn’t easy but it will be rewarding

It takes patience and hard work to execute successfully in the earned media world. Done correctly and with skill, the risk of failure is vastly reduced because the story has obvious merit and the work to serve it up properly has been done.

  • If you’re patient to let these various layers play out, you’ll witness how the coverage expands to a point where it can eventually virally catch fire.

If you’re looking for support and guidance in an earned media setting, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

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.

Know your customer's pain points

To acquire consumer trust, you must walk in their shoes

March 5th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Journey Map, Retail brand building, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Strategic Planning, word of mouth 0 comments on “To acquire consumer trust, you must walk in their shoes”

Keys to successful customer journey mapping

What is the biggest marketing challenge facing food, beverage and lifestyle brands? Creating improvements to brand strategy that will deliver more impact and measurable outcomes from limited resources. Here we’ll talk about an important tool that can help remove risk and uncertainty from your marketing plan and spending decisions while optimizing effectiveness.

What do you ultimately need to deliver sustainable business growth? Consumers who love and appreciate your brand. Trustworthiness is harder to achieve than meets the eye. Relevance and higher value can only be secured when the consumer sees your brand as “mattering” to them on a deeper level than product functionality.

Embedding strategic insight and drawing the brand as close to your customer base as possible requires a disciplined approach. The plan strategy must assure that at every key point on their journey to purchase and later hopefully to evangelism, there’s connection with the right experience, the right message that mirrors their pain point, needs and aspirations.

This outcome is made possible by placing consumers at the center of your strategic planning process. To do this effectively and with clarity, Customer Journey Mapping is the best tool to hold the consumer priority feet to the relevance fire. We’re going to walk you through best practices in journey mapping, an incredibly exciting and important exercise that will bring greater resonance to every aspect of your brand strategy.

Ultimately it will inform more impactful and compelling brand communication and lead consumers to a trusted and closer relationship, for the very reason your interaction with them will resonate at each stage on their path to purchase.

The customer journey map process helps you address the following:

  • Engage your customers in your brand message
  • Believe your brand claims
  • Appreciate your brand purpose
  • Trust your brand
  • Buy your brand with confidence
  • Advocate for your brand

Successfully joining your customer on their journey requires you to think like they do. It will entail empathy, understanding and appreciation of their needs and concerns. The map brings this insight to life. Without it you’re really flying blind.

Your first objective always is to add value to their lives

Simply stated, to:

  • Help them
  • Educate and coach them
  • Demonstrate you are showing up for them
  • Empathize with their needs
  • Fulfill your promises

Here’s the Emergent three-step recipe for an optimal Customer Journey Map

Step One – Persona understanding and Insight

As we’ve conveyed previously, consumer purchase behaviors are 100 percent driven by trying to avoid making a bad decision. Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy & Mather, so accurately describes it, “a one percent chance of nightmare dwarfs a 99 percent chance of a five percent gain.” Accurately understanding and characterizing the consumer’s needs, pain points and “risk” related concerns begins with Persona creation.

Here we identify the key segments of your customer base from early adopters to heavy and occasional users to those motivated more by values or social issues such as sustainability. Within each cohort we take a deep dive on lifestyle, interests, needs, passions.

When fully built out the personas should address these six key questions:

  1. What are the triggers (need/want) that kick off the purchase journey?
  2. What are the pain points and practical needs they wish to solve?
  3. What cultural and societal influences are at play?
  4. Given purchases are largely symbolic signaling now, what symbols of relevance do they look for?
  5. What are the emotional levers that impact their perceptions and actions?
  6. What media do they consume and where?

To do this at an optimal level we operate like anthropologists who observe, investigate and study to know their interests and behaviors.

Step Two – Moments of truth on the path to purchase

The map segments their journey from discovery to purchase, digesting each step along the way so you can articulate what they think, feel and do. Armed with this understanding you’re able to design communications that meet the appropriate moment, thus assuring your brand remains relevant, engaging and helpful.

Here are the seven journey map components

  • Discovery

Steps taken to identify the brand/product choices available for consideration based on consumers’ needs and alignment symbolically with how they see themselves and their values.

  • Exploration

Within a shortlist of candidate brands the consumer is acquiring more information on features, benefits and lifestyle associations. Most of this occurs online in social channels, web sites and media platforms.

  • Comparison

The shortlist alternatives are compared for plus and minus assessments of risk and ability to successfully answer the pain point or desire.

  • Trust check to verify

Consumers look for recommendations and reviews from peers and credible experts or influencers. Their goal is to reduce risk by validating the claims made by a brand on results, ease of use and effectiveness. Social channel proof (testimonial) is a key component in achieving this trust.

  • Purchase

The ease, convenience and absence of friction in the purchase process will influence perceptions of satisfaction and fulfillment of your promise.

  • Experience

Everything that can be done to assure an optimal user experience is delivered to assure the outcome matches the perceived value proposition.

  • Evangelize

Assuming all the previous steps have matched with their needs, the “discovery” aspects of a well-done brand experience will help initiate advocacy, word-of-mouth and sharing of experiences via word-of-mouth and the users’ social channels.

At each step the map is populated with an assessment of what consumers in the moment think, feel and do. This information is used to inform communications and messaging. The right words, at the right time, in the right place.

Step Three – translation to messaging and media plan

Armed now with a full understanding of your customers’ thinking, emotional needs and behaviors at each moment on their purchase journey, you’re in a position to serve up communication and content relevant to their needs as it evolves from need triggers all the way to potential ambassadorship.

Given the mapping focus comes back to what the consumer is thinking, feeling and doing at each step, you’re able to tailor messaging for whichever moment of truth they are in. By virtue of this added relevance, your brand can operate as a guide and empathetic coach at each phase, providing useful information while resolving issues that contribute to perceptions of risk or making a bad decision.

Media selection can be optimized to deliver the right kind of content; from social proof to purchase support and reassurance on issues they care about most. The tool should match the need. This creates greater marketer confidence –understanding what’s going on along the path and knowing which message to deliver. Important to outcomes because the plan now is free from hunches and assumptions about what to convey, when and where.

Mapping the Moments = Momentum

The customer journey map brings added rigor and discipline to the planning process, infuses consumer relevance throughout their journey and acts as guide to message and media based on audience behaviors and preferences.

The consumer recognizes your understanding of them amplified by the usefulness and value of what you’re able to tell them. In the year ahead, brand strategy improvements will be needed to step past the significant behavioral changes and attitude shifts authored on by the pandemic. The Journey Map is the way to get there.

If you think the Journey Map process might be right for you, and you’re interested in help and support, use this link to ask questions about what’s best for you.

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.

Cultivating brand advocacy

Is your brand remarkable enough to earn conversation?

December 14th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, brand messaging, Brand preference, change, CMO, Emotional relevance, Social community, Social media, social media marketing, word of mouth, word of mouth 0 comments on “Is your brand remarkable enough to earn conversation?”

How to cultivate and deploy genuine word of mouth

Consumer trust in what your company says about your brands has been in decline for more than a decade. Sadly, customers just don’t believe you. Thus, why buying awareness in paid media channels is less useful and effective now. So, what then is powerful and persuasive? Other people.

The holy grail of marketing is word-of-mouth (WOM). For the very reason it comes embedded with trust and belief from an independent source people respect. According to Nielsen, 83 percent of Americans trust the recommendations of friends and family. Testimonials from other users far outweighs any other form of brand outreach on engagement metrics and ability to credibly validate what brands want people to believe about the merits of their products and services.

Is this a happy accident? Is talk value a gifted benefit only to some naturally-alluring brands in high involvement categories – the equivalent of being born with a silver spoon and inherited buzz-worthiness? Can it be managed and created? Is it unattainable for low involvement, more commodity-type businesses like say baking flour?

  • It can be achieved.
  • It requires intention and careful strategic development.
  • It is not the outcome of easily replicated table stake strengths such as better taste, higher quality ingredients or great service.
  • Proof: check out King Arthur Flour’s incredible dedication to feeding a community of people hooked on baking.

Why is WOM so elusive for most businesses?

Entirely too much similarity exists between brands in many food and beverage categories. Marketing strategies that essentially mimic competitors are all too common due to low perceived risk. But then rewards are low, too. Leverage and advantage will go to those businesses that organically create talk value because they are truly distinctive and remarkable. In absence of this ability to standout brands are forced to compete for attention – usually on the basis of sheer tonnage in paid media spend.

Why do we find ourselves here?

Buying awareness through paid media is a hallmark of traditional marketing thinking that’s been around for more than a generation. It is expensive, increasingly less effective, yet easier to understand and implement. It’s the path of least resistance. The art of talking to people is an entirely new skill that while less costly is more complex and nuanced. It bears mentioning here, paid influencer campaigns are not word of mouth creators, they are another form of purchased awareness from the ‘talking at’ media toolbox.

If you agree that word of mouth is the most effective platform available to brands in this age of fractured media channels, short attention spans – and a paucity of trust in what brands want consumers to believe, then how do you secure the authentic marketing horsepower the tellable tale offers?

More specifically what constitutes remarkable-ness and word-of-mouth generating exceptionalism? The best answer begins with peeling the onion on what won’t generate this kind of serial advocacy.

  • Better ingredients – marginal distinctions, easily copied
  • Better taste – subjective and one reformulation away from disappearing
  • Sustainability standards – more common card now played by many brands
  • Philanthropy – good to do but increasingly commonplace and thus not distinctive
  • Operational strengths – efficient attentive service, clean and well-organized stores already a must
  • Premiumization of legacy categories – manifested by many who now follow the artisanal path of product creation
  • Local sourcing – advances in distribution infrastructure are making this easier to do
  • The outcome of stunts – yes, a diluted form of word of mouth can be created but the shelf life isn’t sustainable past a few days

WOM generation is hard to do, but it can be done with impact

Hope is not a strategy. You have to work hard to earn recommendations. It takes planning and design to build a talk-worthy experience. It is not a happy accident. WOM can be cultivated by building and embedding the remarkable and unexpected into your operations and product. People are conditioned to talk about the extraordinary and exceptional and ignore everything else. Having said that, improved customer experience is a common strategy and not a differentiator.

We should note here: being better is not as powerful as being different. Remarkable means worthy of a remark and that is uncommon.

The enemy of WOM is incrementalism and sameness.

Defining the path to word-of-mouth excellence

Here’s the question to address in planning: what can we do differently that will be unexpected, remarkable and endear our brand to our core customers?

  • It must be available, accessible to every customer, every day
  • It is really about how your business DOES business
  • It must be easy to understand and share-able
  • It must serve your objective to build a community of passionate advocates

When I first purchased a Dyson vacuum years ago, I was stunned by its design and departure from what was expected in the operation and features of a floor cleaner. It worked as promised. It did not lose suction. I could see the outcomes of my labor in a clear basket. No messy bag to install. Its design was modern and sleek. I talked about it. The WOM created by Dyson was embedded in the design and story underneath its creation.

The company violated accepted rules in the floorcare category. It changed the game. Dyson charged a higher price and people paid it. The product invention story created legend around the inventor.

Now, the mimicking is in full swing and the concept has lost its edge. Many, many billions of dollars in sales later. Evidence that the fundamentals of disruption and remarkable-ness must be revisited from time to time as the marketplace observes success and then works to replicate it over time, eroding the original uniqueness.

In their delightful book on the topic of WOM titled “Talk Triggers” authors Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin cite the seemingly mundane move by Five Guys to pile on the extra fries in every bag of burgers their customers’ order. It’s available to everyone, everyday. No one else in the burger world does it, and it is a tellable tale of generosity. Scans of social media show evidence of this simple benefit showing up repeatedly as a consistent differentiator. They don’t spend big money on advertising because they don’t have to.

In every case of strong WOM strategy we find creativity, boldness, departure from the norm, and rule-breaking around category conventions. When you decide to be remarkable and thus worthy of a remark, day in and day out, you automatically know your brand isn’t going to present itself like all the other adjacent businesses in the competitive set. It cannot be all things to all people.

Baer’s story about Holiday World, the family-owned theme park in Santa Claus, Indiana that made the “crazy” decision to provide all soft drinks to their visitors free of charge, shows the power of audacity and courage. Their social media channels repeat the free drinks benefit, attracting crowds with an unusual idea that continues to pay for itself over and over.

Do the unexpected?

Endear your brand to customers?

Create a tell-able tale?

Why bother? For the very reason the world has changed and the marketing game-plan needs to change with it. When consumers believe the stories of their peers first over your carefully crafted outreach, that right there is reason enough to develop an intentionally designed WOM solution.

Should this idea strike a chord, and you believe some fresh thinking might help shape this strategy for your brand, use this link to start a conversation. It could create benefits and advantages that last for years, while reducing your dependence and spending on old-school ad tactics.

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.

Big ideas inform business and brand behaviors

How Emergent can help you win in the year ahead

December 3rd, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Activism, brand marketing, branded content, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “How Emergent can help you win in the year ahead”

2021 will not be kind to ineffective strategies

Emergent’s secret sauce is our unique ability to help clients understand and navigate barriers to their growth – mission critical in what will be a challenging year ahead. The 2021 strategic goal posts have already been moving. In sum, current conditions place an extraordinary premium on correctly dialing in your brand’s higher purpose and deeper meaning – essential to creating consumer trust that unlocks the path to purchase.

  • We can help you define brand higher purpose in your category. Translate this understanding into a strategic go-to-market game plan and map your brand’s relevant messaging. Then create the communication tools to help build an enthusiastic core of brand fans who voluntarily spread your message in their own communities and social circles.

Why this matters to you: consumers’ trust in companies and brands has been declining for years. People believe the voices and experiences of other people before they will accept a brand’s claims and assertions. Social proof is the required verification and validation of what you want people to believe about your brand and products.

Our services:

  • Brand sustainability analysis: defining your higher purpose and brand stand that informs every aspect of the go-to-market plan.
  • Connecting consumer insight to strategic planning: dialing in and optimizing your brand’s relevance to consumers’ lifestyles.
  • Messaging and brand storytelling that engages, enlightens and guides: making the consumer the hero of your brand communication.
  • Building social channel strategies and tools that engage consumers in word-of-mouth activity: the most powerful, credible communications tool on earth.

Free consultation and audit:

We’re offering an easy, zero cost way to assess fit. We start with an informal conversation about your needs and interests in the year ahead. With signatures on an NDA if you desire, we will conduct an audit of your current brand messaging and business priorities. We’ll provide our guidance and thinking at no charge. If what we offer creates value for you and further interest, then we can discuss a scope of work appropriate to your unique needs.

Use this link to open a conversation and let’s talk about how to transform your outcomes in 2021.

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.

Marketing planning for 2021

Top five marketing resources to power your 2021 growth plans

November 18th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, engagement, Growth, Integrated Communications, Marketing Strategy, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Top five marketing resources to power your 2021 growth plans”

What you will require for success in the new year

Unprecedented complexity in marketing channels, platforms and media priorities can subtract from the confidence and clarity you need about where to make the best strategic investments. The potential for engagement misfires (wrong message, wrong channel) is at an all-time high and it seems as though every other day a new media platform rises to claim its narrow territory in an ever more fractured communications landscape.

  • You need a clear path and navigation chart to inform your decisions on where to invest precious marketing assets next year – when every dollar needs to perform like 10 and there’s not a lot of room to recover from mistakes.

We aim to provide specific guidance here.

Fortunately, the marketing game plan priorities are making themselves known. Today we have the benefit of hindsight to examine what tools performed to greatest effect in this uncommon year, and we also have a grip on where to place the marketing plan bets headed into 2021.

Here’s the most dramatic piece of evolutionary perspective unfolding for next year: what’s old is renewed again. I am personally ecstatic to see this change arrive. Read on.

I came up at Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), the first 11 years of my career bathed in the ample light of how David Ogilvy and his immensely talented colleagues saw the marketing universe. While David was a renowned and talented ad copywriter, he was first a business builder, problem solver with a remarkable grasp on the levers of how to grow a client company. He was indeed a holistic thinker.

David was forever espousing a point of view that we aren’t on the planet just to make advertising or PR. We’re here first to:

  • understand the challenges of business categories,
  • help incubate innovative product solutions,
  • understand the delicate emotional characteristics of brands,
  • navigate the cultural issues that impact company behavior,
  • and, inform and educate that most mysterious creature known as the consumer (“who is not a moron but rather your husband or wife,” says Ogilvy).

Said another way, a more myopic view would have us believing it’s all about the ad or PR creative product. Thus your proverbial marketing hammer comes back repeatedly to the same tactical nail. If that were true, our value as counselors, guides and business experts would deteriorate overnight and the agency business would be diluted to churning out cinematic representations of feature and benefit stories. Or the lesser digital display ad?!

Instead, we are tasked with being strategic guides who make our client’s business and category a deep and comprehensive ongoing study involving the mechanics of:

  • product creation and
  • market influences and
  • economic conditions and
  • cultural shifts and
  • competitive challenges and
  • the endless study of consumer and organizational behavior.

In short we are devoted to strategic investigations and assessments ahead of any conversation about a creative idea, in part for the very reason that all of that analysis nourishes enlightenment and leads to more relevant and powerful marketing ideas. The kind that make communications all the more effective at turning the screw of share and volume growth.

  • What’s the definition of a big idea? One that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact and change company behavior and the dynamics of the marketplace in which it competes. That’s a compelling adventure to join and why I appreciated what I learned while at O&M. Big ideas tend to bubble up in the midst of strategic business conversations.

However, with the growth of digital everything, over time the marketing guidance task largely contracted into a tactical role of managing the digital platform du jour and erstwhile electronic flag waving. In recent years the consultive forms of agency and client relationship have diluted in favor of operating a digital marketing automation dashboard. Execution driven assignments more so than operating within an authentic marketing partnership.

Well, all of that is about to change in 2021.

We’re entering an era where the importance of strategy and branding has re-emerged as the decisive lynchpin in priority and design of nearly every go-to-market plan. Why? The toolbox game has fallen in on itself under the sheer weight of so many options competing for eyeballs at a time when consumers are tiring of the relentless barrage. People are tuning out entirely the self-serving, self-reverential bullhorn of marketing message social channels. They reflexively reject that interruption right out of the gate.

The Pandemic has also lowered the tolerance boom on brand self-promotion – while rewarding efforts by enlightened brands that closely align themselves with higher purpose values and drive deeper meaning into their brand story and behavior.

What worked and what’s coming next year

A recent national survey of agencies conducted by SharpSpring revealed universally the most effective outreach tool deployed in 2020 was paid social. Not a surprise given the importance people place on social conversation, the levels of engagement there (which also correlates with the consumer’s prevailing interest in dialogue) and hearing the experiences of others to inform their purchase decisions.

Looking ahead at next year, this same study drilled down to what is likely to be in demand by clients in the year ahead, which also bears remarkable similarity to what clients are prepared to outsource to their agencies.

The re-emergence of strategy and branding as a top priority activates to assure marketing investment decisions will, indeed, deliver on their engagement objectives. This helps to measurably influence purchase decisions at a time when the consumer’s view of what matters is rapidly evolving.

Taste, price and convenience used to drive food and beverage purchases. Now those triggers are overtaken by a host of new more issue-like considerations such as health and wellness, transparency, purpose and values, supply chain integrity, sustainability and food safety.

  • Add to this an emerging concern about climate change and the impact of our current food production system on greenhouse gas (GHG) levels – meat production is by far the largest single contributor followed by agriculture. The food system creates more GHG than all of the global transportation systems (cars, trains, airplanes, etc.) combined.

We are seeing a rise in consumer demand for change addressing their concern to know what the carbon footprint is of the foods we consume. More on this topic to come from us.

Meantime, the verdict is in on resources to receive the most attention and likely investment in 2021 while brands continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic on preferences, shopping and purchase behavior.

The top five marketing needs for 2021

  • Marketing strategy: this begins with insight into consumer behavior and cultural shifts taking place that impact what people care about, and what they expect of the brands that matter to them. Active participation on issues like climate change will be one of them.
  • Branding: the role of higher purpose and deeper meaning are now critical to your business and brand voice. This is not a “nice to have” but a core strategic platform to secure relevance and engagement at a time when people expect brands to participate in making our world a better place.
  • Social media management: social media is a top priority and has remained so for some time now. How brands engage here, support community growth and encourage user generated content, will play a critical role in trust creation. Trust is a top objective and this channel is part of the solution. It’s remarkable that at one time the idea of actually talking directly to a brand’s consumer was virtually unheard of. When it finally arrived many brands looked upon it skeptically as a scary and potentially treacherous and uncontrollable development. My, how times have changed.
  • PR and reputation management: trust is the currency of any brand relationship. It is a requirement. Now harder to earn and maintain, the scrutiny and filters being applied by consumers seeks to determine whether a brand’s activism is messaging masquerading as champion of a cause – or is it real where the brand behavior matches the rhetoric. A recent IBM study on purpose reports that when consumers think a brand has a strong and authentic purpose, they are 4.1 times more likely to trust the company.
  • Digital advertising and re-targeting: a strong and verifiable correlation exists between awareness and velocity performance at retail. The more present and top of mind your brand is, the more likely this recognition will convert to a sale, assuming other considerations on purpose, values and trust are properly aligned. People live online. That bit of behavior enhanced by shelter in place and work or school from home conditions is why digital channels are having a heyday.

Brand activism on the rise      

An important strategic focus in 2021 will be where your brand sits on the fence of increased calls for activism on societal issues. Generation Z, the most woke generation of all, is decidedly focused on this and will be voicing their sentiments in the purchases they make. Their wallet is their vote and symbolic flag to those around them about what they consider to be important.

  • A recent study from Zeno Group found that for brands of comparable quality and pricing, 91% of consumers will switch if one of those brands supports an important cause. That might as well be 100%.

Here’s another way to look at it:

The more activist a brand is, the more earned media attention it’s likely to secure. This leads to greater visibility and brand awareness in trusted media channels – which in turn will help drive recognition leading to higher sales outcomes. All of this is happening in a media model that is derived at lower cost (compared to traditional media) thus helping wring more benefit out of tight budget resources.

The key is how real the brand’s activism is vs. an attempt to “message” around it without the anchoring back-up of verifiable brand behavior. Fake activism is discoverable and can (will) backfire.

If a conversation on 2021 planning priorities would be helpful to your decision making, we would welcome the conversation. Use this link and let’s start a conversation.

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

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

It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING

May 24th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Public Relations, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING”

The five essential guideposts to successful brand communication

In a recent article about the COVID-19 disruption of conventional marketing strategies, an industry contemporary weighed in to say change is here. He opined that the latest digital media platforms must be deployed as relevant vessels to convey the product sales-building message. The story was a remarkable resurfacing of a fundamental mistake now driving an unnecessary (and unwanted) wedge between many brands and their users.

You can no longer game your way into someone’s heart and head. When every media form or channel is viewed as a pipeline for pushing messages designed to interrupt and snare people who are trying to consume useful content, the product messaging gambit represents a form of marketing denial about how brand relationships are created.

  • A classic (but now worn) example of this is the misuse and abuse of social channels, treating them as yet another promotion broadcast medium with some begrudging two-way conversation sprinkled in.

We simply can’t look at marketing outreach as “persuasion” any longer, a type of digital bullhorn to broadcast product features, dressed up to look like a more educational piece of publishing. People see right through it. Moreover, they won’t stand for it, sit for it, hear it, consume it or engage with it.

When marketing dollars become precious and every one of them needs to perform more powerfully, it only stands to reason that dialing into cultural context to enhance message effectiveness is important.

Brands must become trusted sources and resources

The relationship brands build with consumers must evolve.

Consider how real, human friendships are created and nurtured. And how real friends communicate with each other. There’s a difference between telling and yelling in both conversational context and messaging construction.

The great brand storytellers know who the hero must be – it’s the consumer and not the brand. Yellers see things from the polar opposite angle, casting the brand and product as hero of every message. The brand’s role should be depicted as trusted guide and expert that operates in service of improving the consumer’s life.

Impactful stories show how the brand fits into an idealized narrative around the consumer’s aspirational lifestyle. As we conveyed in an earlier article, Health is the New Wealth.

Five guideposts to effective brand communication

  1. Relevance

Effective stories always follow a basic element of human truth. If brand relationships must operate more like human friendships, then what people fundamentally need should be factored into the communications messaging platform. People want to:

  • Feel safe
  • Be loved
  • Be valued
  • Inspire others
  • Be successful

Stories should address what’s relevant to user needs and desires.

  1. Social influence

Leveraging trends is important. People follow them, talk about them, share with others and through this process ‘collective wisdom’ forms to validate the acceptability and popularity of cultural developments. Whether that’s adopting new tech platforms like Zoom, TV programs such as the runaway success of Tiger King, use of e-commerce channels to shop, or a surge in home baking, emergence of new trends is not to be overlooked in content calendars.

Stay-at-home is one of the most compelling, dynamic and influential trends of all-time. It presents a treasure trove of opportunity for guidance and conversation on topics ranging from how to re-set the home for work and learning, to spending more time with the kids, to exercising culinary muscles.

  1. Reciprocity

People are hard-wired to recognize, appreciate and reciprocate when experiencing self-less, useful and helpful behaviors. When brands stop looking at customers as walking transactions and see them as real people who need support, the entire dynamic of the consumer-to-brand relationship starts to change.

  • Unselfishness is an admired human characteristic that when added to the brand voice and outreach, paves the way for a respected and trusted relationship.

Educational experiences that help improve expertise and knowledge can be a wonderful way to hone the brand’s role as expert guide and coach.

  1. Emotional intelligence

A lot has been written lately about the value of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and no doubt there are areas where data can be applied to improve decision-making. Targeted media selection would be a prime example. But it can also be a false god. The brand’s goal isn’t to be the one that measures but rather the one that matters.

Imbuing your brand with deeper meaning and higher purpose is the on-ramp to emotional forms of communication. When emotional connections take root between a consumer and brand – the relationship crosses a chasm from habit to ritual. Jasmine Bina, respected brand strategist and noted author recently published on the topic, saying “it only makes sense that when our daily habits are prevented, we hold on even tighter to the rituals that define us.”

Deeper meaning is a matter of perspective. Pet food brands transform when they understand they are not in the pet food making business. Instead they are selling an instrument of love for furry family members and a perception of elevated health, wellness and longevity. Bina quotes noted neurologist Donald Calne: “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

What are the emotional catalysts in your business that will cause people to pause, feel emotionally involved and act?

  1. Authenticity

People yearn for the real and more authentic brand voices that are less formulaic and more credible – in part because the brand communication is human and conversational. People want to believe. To do so, though, they need to trust first and it’s harder for people to trust companies over the experiences and opinions of other consumers.

This may be the most important endorsement there is for social community building. It is when the voices of outside, third parties are enlisted that the requirement for authenticity is really served.

Authenticity and trust are siblings. Authentic means real, true and is less about false prophets, theater, artifice and magic. If the consumer were with us when we build stories they would say, “just talk to me like a person and remember it’s about me, my life and search for meaning and purpose, and not about you and your secret sauce and technical prowess.”

The obvious question then is how the brand comes to play. Messaging must be framed around consideration of the brand’s values, positioning and purpose. Which begs the question, what is the brand’s deeper meaning and higher purpose? Once that is correctly defined, the right messaging flows because it’s embedded with authentic, trustworthy, human characteristics.

So, my friend…examine your brand messaging strategy.  Is your brand supportive and telling – or self-involved and yelling?  Which friend would you rather have?

When this process is dialed in correctly, the outcomes can be transformational for engagement levels that lead to sustainable business growth.

Emergent stands ready to help you create powerful, meaningful and relevant brand stories. Use this link to let us know if you would like to discuss further.

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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