Posts in storytelling

New rules: what to say in brand communication

March 25th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, branded content, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “New rules: what to say in brand communication”

Time to stop talking about wiping down surfaces

A veritable flood of email communication is heading outward by the minute from brands and retailers, serving mostly as a reminder of hygiene activity and safety practices. While doing so is certainly admirable, it abrogates the one maxim of effective communication that, now more than ever, must be observed to build consumer trust and relationship.

First, for clarity, we recommend the hygiene regimen focused emailing should cease. It serves only to remind people of the coronavirus threat. It is also placing the company at the center of the message rather than the consumer. Hygiene has its place, but not as a lead message.

Effective storytelling begins with observing these important criteria:

  • How is my brand communication being helpful and useful to the consumer in the new conditions they find themselves?
  • How can I help improve customers’ lives at a time when homebound stresses multiply, and families are living in isolation?
  • What utility are you providing that earns permission for engagement and hence is seen as value-added rather than corporate interruption?

Successful communication places the consumer at the center of messaging

The consumer MUST be the hero of your messaging. Their needs, concerns, conditions and challenges are paramount at a time when anything else may be greeted as irrelevant or spam. Granted it’s important to provide information on safety practices and supply chain integrity. That said, you should lead content strategy with consumer-relevant stories over internal mandates.

What’s going on right now that informs messaging strategy:

  1. People are homebound and contending with the growing stresses related to confinement, absence of lifestyle options and restricted social activity.
  2. Children are out of school and disrupted from their learning routine and quality interaction with friends. Boredom is a real thing.
  3. The home is the center of the universe and meal preparation activity becomes a never-ending call to action.
  4. Online communication and contact are at a premium and is a threshold for engagement while screen time explodes.
  5. Economic uncertainty bubbles underneath as people grow wary of the quarantine consequences for business and jobs.

What to convey in your outreach messaging:

  • Be empathetic. Put the brand in league with consumer concerns during this time of crisis. A human, conversational voice is essential. Edit out corporate speak or self-promotion.
  • Offers and generous incentives are important as a thank you and to help ease the stresses on family finances. This may sound like self-promotion but it isn’t. It’s just a well-timed reward.
  • At no other time in the history of modern cultural change has health and wellness become more important. Now is the time to weigh in on stories aimed at helping people take better care of themselves, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This is your higher purpose right now.
  • The kitchen is now the center of the home universe. This is the time to become helpful on menus ideas, preparation hacks, e-commerce ordering tips, interactive cooking experiences with the kids, recipes, pantry stocking advice, food freshness guidance, home baking (the most challenging of culinary skills), and ways to take the drudgery out of home meal prep. Pivot to online cooking classes with your corporate chef.
  • Time needs filling with activities that have more going for it than consuming massive quantities of Netflix programming. Here are some ideas, advice, guidance on activities and pursuits that take advantage of the extra down time:

Music

Art projects

Reading and learning; podcast listening is on a tear

Exercise, yoga and online experiences to promote same

Meditation, mental health and wellness

Home repair and refurbishment

Pet behavioral training

Interactive activities with pets

Spring housecleaning tips

Organization and decluttering the home

Games, puzzles, and other hands-on moments of home-based entertainment

Spring gardening

Online workshops for any of these

You may be asking what’s this got to do with my business, and the answer is, it’s about them and how marketing becomes useful to people in extraordinary conditions.

Unselfishness is put to the test

Ample evidence exists that earning trust and belief is best served when the consumer believes you are genuinely concerned about them and improving their lives. At its core this requires a move towards a less selfish form of marketing that puts their intrinsic needs first.

Given the incredible circumstances in which we find ourselves, this axiom is more important than ever. Reciprocity is the guiding principle that should help direct your strategic thinking. When the brand becomes an enabler, guide and coach, you are seeding the opportunity for a welcomed and appreciated relationship.

This will require a reorientation from traditional command and control forms of marketing. However, the more enlightened approach will put your brand in position to engage at a time when there are fewer distractions. People are looking for the voices that provide useful guidance in these uncertain times.

If you need help in navigating the right message and content, we’re here to assist.

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.

Pandemic Advances Pet Value Proposition

March 18th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Pet care, Pet food marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Pandemic Advances Pet Value Proposition”

Pets Impact Your Health and Wellbeing

As families endure the uncertainty of pandemic conditions outside their homes, the value proposition of pet ownership is getting a boost. Most pet owners can easily attest to the emotional benefits of having that wagging tail or purring rub greet you each morning. Furry family members provide a calming, mood-enhancing effect in the face of adversity.

That said, moving beyond the stress-reducing benefits of spending more quality time around dogs and cats is emerging evidence that pets can contribute directly to owner health and well-being.

In Dr. Marty Becker’s landmark book, The Healing Power of Pets, this renowned Veterinarian brought to light tangible associations between pets and the health and wellbeing of their owners. Becker characterized dogs and cats as a “human life support system,” based on studies showing a link between the presence of pets and the prevention, detection and treatment of illnesses.

A literature search on pet-to-human health impacts, reveals studies and published reports that draw connections between pet ownership and –

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved recovery outcomes from cancer and strokes
  • Reduced use of medications
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Reduced doctor visits and associated costs
  • Early detection of cancer
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Improved mental health
  • Relief from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Treatment of depression and loneliness
  • Doctor recommended therapy in treatment of Autism, Alzheimer’s and spinal injury

According to the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of U.S. households include a pet, with 90 million dogs and 94 million cats residing in homes.

The deep emotional bond between pets and pet parents has always been a source of motivation driving the continued premiumization of the pet care marketplace. Advancing sales of super premium pet foods, for example, is attributed to the growing desire to provide nutritional quality that is on a par with human-quality diets. Pets are now fully ensconced as card-carrying family members.

A connection between human health benefits and pet ownership may become more apparent while the pandemic turns lifestyles upside down, and the pet to pet-owner relationship helps measurably improve wellness and happiness in the midst of unprecedented upheaval.

If pet ownership makes people not only happier but also healthier, it is likely the relationship value will rise with it, and the increase in pet-owning households will grow alongside.

Marketing best practices trail behind the evidence of lifestyle benefits

Pet food is an interesting category due to the similarities in product form – kibble has essentially the same brown nugget appearance brand-to-brand. The continued growth of brands offering higher protein foods made from animal, poultry and fish proteins, has prompted brands to also similarly emphasize analytical messaging around ingredients and protein percentages inside the nugget.

However, the latest research in consumer attitude and behavior shows that people remain emotional creatures who make decisions led by their feelings more than facts. The correlation between pet ownership and improved owner health and wellbeing could fuel the continued growth of high-quality pet foods. This will occur for the very reason that people themselves have already connected the dots between what they ingest and their own quality of life.

However, the pet food industry is still stuck in analytical rather than lifestyle marketing practices.

It’s time that pet brands look more closely at the contributions pet ownership can make to family health and understand the emotional connectivity this fosters. While other business categories will undoubtedly suffer in the presence of COVID-19, it is clear pet owners feel strongly about feeding quality foods and have routinely shown they will make sacrifices in other areas of their life to do so.

It may very well be that dogs and cats will be the heroes that elevate family health and happiness during this trying time.

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.

Bloomberg: the $500 Million Marketing Misfire

March 9th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, branded content, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Bloomberg: the $500 Million Marketing Misfire”

A compelling lesson for CPG and retail marketers

Regardless of what you think of Mike Bloomberg’s politics, his relatively short-lived candidacy for President was fueled by a pervasive, high tonnage ad campaign that ultimately flamed out.

While there were varying executions in rotation, the primary television and radio effort was a chronicle of his achievements. This approach was fundamentally flawed from the start, as it ignored the new conventions of authentic messaging engagement in the era of consumer control. It stands as a very expensive example of what not to do and a lesson to CPG and retail marketers everywhere that the new rules of consumer engagement must be acknowledged, even by well-funded political ad campaigns.

It also serves to remind us that the path to market is substantially different now, and big TV budgets are no guarantee of success. We’re doing business in a changed world where other channels (like social media) and more genuine forms of outreach matter more. The glossy cinematic ads can’t make up for an absence of genuine emotional human connection, trust and belief.

Who is the hero? Don’t Be like Mike

The prevailing message in Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign was a bulleted list –

  • Mike built a global business empire from the ground up
  • Mike took charge of the 9-11 response in New York
  • Mike made affordable housing happen on his watch
  • Mike took on the NRA
  • Mike funded college education for those in need
  • Mike stood up to the coal lobby

The list goes on. Not unlike many other campaigns we see on a regular basis, the hero of this story is Mike Bloomberg. You can see the discussions going on with his media handlers building a list of their candidate’s ‘features and benefits’ ready to fire the cannon volley about his wins and achievements. We find the same thing going on with food, beverage and lifestyle brands, building a focus around all the reasons why the product and brand are superior to the other guys.

Embedding disconnect in the message platform

The $500 million misfire started with upside-down messaging. The hero of any politician or brand story isn’t the politician or brand. It is the voter, the consumer. Every single day human beings wake up believing they are the heroes of their life journey.

It is their lives, passions, problems, struggles, concerns, needs, wants and aspirations that matter most. That’s why we build the story around the consumer as hero with the candidate or brand operating as the expert and sage guide to help them win and solve their problems.

When the hero is Mike Bloomberg, the message is now competing with voters for the hero role. It fails to engage as people move on to find the expert guide who will forge a better future for them and their families.

In the brand marketing world, so much effort goes into making the highest quality products and services that the marketing plan is laser focused on trumpeting the superior product features. Seems only logical to do so, right?

  • When the brand is the hero and not the consumer, a fundamental flaw exists that will interfere with engagement, and no amount of media spending is going to overcome that fracture.

Messaging matters to outcomes

If the messaging is wrong, nothing works – and the major media spend simply serves to push the broken agenda in more directions. Marketing investments indeed can be wasted. This is why Emergent devotes a significant amount of work upfront with clients mapping the right message platform, with the consumer as hero of the storytelling. Then and only then, will the application of media tools and channels deliver on the desired objectives.

If the consumer isn’t listening it doesn’t matter that the message shows up early and often. Technology today allows people to avoid anything they don’t see as relevant to them. People resonate to people. We want the heroes of our favorite stories to overcome the odds. Heroes are almost always flawed characters who need help to succeed. This is where the brand enters the picture as the Yoda to Luke Skywalker. You remember that Luke doubted himself all the way to the climatic end when he finally believed in the Force and his Jedi training.

Media in the new age

The goals of media planning today are about genuine, credible, believable and trusted forms of outreach. Thus, why great care must be taken when using influencers because this can work at cross purposes if post authenticity appears to be compromised by payment. Earned media is a vital channel due to the reportorial, non-paid status it holds. Social communities are destinations for people to share personal experiences, a digital form of word-of-mouth. This is why social proof is so important to earning trust.

If the goal is to help improve the lives of your users and if you are working to embed a higher purpose and deeper meaning for your brand that transcends the basics of product selling, you have a shot at creating a ‘movement’ and securing legions of fans who want your marketing rather than tuning it out.

We can help you create a more transcendent relationship with consumers and messaging they will connect with. Don’t be like Mike…

Want to discuss your challenges informally? Let’s talk.

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

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.

Emotion Will Transform Your Business Outcomes

March 3rd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Emotion Will Transform Your Business Outcomes”

The story of emotional marketing power

Awhile back the largest home safety products company, First Alert, had landed on a household hazard that no one even knew existed. It was the number one cause of accidental poisoning fatalities in America, a threat flying so low under the radar there was near zero measurable public awareness of the peril.

Yet households and families across the country were potential unwitting victims to this insidious threat that, among poison specialists, had acquired the nickname The Great Imitator. First Alert discovered the widespread existence of highly dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) gas, that could be present in homes because it is a natural, common by-product of all fossil fuel combustion. Anywhere a flame exists, carbon monoxide is there with it, released into the atmosphere where people unknowingly consume it through the simple act of breathing.

Most consumers associated carbon monoxide with car exhaust and suicides from distraught people leaving the car engine running with a garage door shut. CO inside the home living space was not understood. By anyone.

Carbon monoxide poisoning earned its Great Imitator title because it is odorless, colorless, tasteless and early poisoning symptoms perfectly mimic the flu. The presence of CO in a home an outcome of malfunctioning heat exchangers or venting in furnace systems, chimney drafts that reverse direction in certain outdoor wind conditions, or appliances like stoves and hot water heaters that when improperly tuned may emit measurable levels of CO into the building.

  • There was no way to detect it, no way to know if the family is being poisoned routinely by the presence of this invisible hazard. Remarkably First Alert had developed new technology that could sense the presence of CO in the household air and designed an alarm product around it.

Thousands of lives were lost every year to carbon monoxide poisoning but the awareness and understanding of this critical, life threatening problem went largely unnoticed. Until…

Changing the future and saving lives

We were hired to help First Alert build a marketplace for the alarm product. How could we possibly succeed with an invisible hazard that no one has any tangible experience with other than the unexplained headaches or nausea that accompanies low level exposure to the poison? CO operates in the lungs to reduce oxygen levels in the blood stream, slowly suffocating a person from the inside out. Even small amounts are highly toxic.

Consumer insight is a powerful tool and we felt strongly consumer research would help us find the right strategic path. Essential to our due diligence and discovery were one-on-one, deep dive conversations with men and women about the hazard. In these meetings we presented a variety of narrative stories that explained the condition and solution.

Some treatments were educational ‘explainer’ concepts that helped people understand the scope of the threat and where CO comes from inside the home. Some approached the story from the poison side, with physicians detailing how CO works to rob the blood of oxygen, eventually leading to unconsciousness and death.

One of the treatments, however, was a real-life story of a family in Maine that lost their teenage daughter to carbon monoxide poisoning inside their home. The story worked to humanize the entire proposition and focus on the loss of a loved one, in a life-ending condition that might have been prevented.

The mother’s heartfelt story was powerful. In fact, the outcomes of the research confirmed categorically that none of the analytical arguments and educational downloads came within a country mile of making an impact on attitude and behavior like the family tragedy, told by parents who were determined to help others understand how they can avoid this fate.

Dawn of ‘The Silent Killer’

We created short, memorable handle for the CO threat that turned its invisibility into a poignant indictment of the household menace. We developed a launch strategy around the family’s gripping story, created an entity called the Carbon Monoxide Information Bureau as a quote-able source, and rallied a team of respected physicians and indoor air quality experts to fill in the details of how CO occurs and what it does to a person exposed.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington DC made CO poisoning events a priority for their public outreach efforts that credibly affirmed the scope of the problem.

What came next is one of the largest earned media campaigns we ever conducted that blended the family story with information on how people could protect themselves. Chief among the messaging points were medical reports that confirmed children and unborn babies are at greater risk to CO poisoning and could be adversely impacted by smaller amounts of the gas.

Producers at network news and talk shows like NBC Today Show and Good Morning America were genuinely shocked at the revelation, and The Silent Killer story quickly gained national attention and momentum.

Soundbites along with B-roll footage of household hazard conditions went to major market TV newsrooms across the country. First responder fire departments in the top 25 markets were enlisted to weigh in on the conditions and events surrounding CO events in an effort to help people protect themselves and their families.

The First Alert business went from zero to hundreds of millions in CO alarm sales within 15 months of launch. The buyer at Walmart called the new category the ‘Cabbage Patch Doll’ of the hardware department. Local news reported lines outside stores to get the alarms. Thousands of lives were saved, and families protected. Local governments began to weigh in writing Ordinances to require CO alarms in households, while product design created integrated alarms that combined smoke and CO monitoring in one detection unit.

Don’t leave emotion out of your marketing

This was one of the most gratifying marketing and communications experiences in my career for the very reason we were able to save so many lives, while creating a new product category to help prevent a life-threatening hazard that no one can see.

  • Most important was the family who stepped up to help us tell this story out of their personal experience. From a pure communications strategy standpoint, emotion and heart-over-head are directionally vital takeaways to this approach.

People resonate to people. No matter how powerful the facts may be, the analytical evidence of superiority your product may possess, emotional stories of human experience will be more compelling. After all, every consumer is first and foremost a human being and we are simply wired to respond this way.

We can help you harness emotion and craft powerful brand stories that build business.

Want to know more? Let’s talk.

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

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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When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen

February 20th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transparency 0 comments on “When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen”

Create a movement or sell features and benefits?

Consumers are masters now of recognizing traditional marketing tactics and opting out to avoid communication that comes across as self-promotional. On the flip side, brands that position themselves as enablers and expert guides on what’s important to consumers are finding an open path to consumer engagement and conversation.

We know the latter can be difficult to accomplish.

It’s hard to step away from the reflex to self-promote.

However, we also know you care deeply about effectiveness and outcomes.

Understanding the difference between the two pathways (self-promotion vs. enabler communication) is vital to making marketing investments payoff – it’s the difference between creating marketing people want rather than ignore. The path to brand relevance now requires a more enlightened and human approach to how the brand and business is presented.

In an ad industry trade story authored by R/GA agency CEO Bob Greenberg that influenced Emergent’s point of view about marketing best practices, he said the definition of a big idea is one that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact the behavior of a company and brand.

A big idea was NOT defined as a catchy slogan or a clever ad or promotion, rather a platform that would have bearing on how the company conducts its business and how the brand behaves in the marketplace. Here we are in 2020 with an elevated idea of what that concept means today.

  • If the purpose of the business is simply to uptick the number of transactions year on year, and the role of marketing is to feed the sales funnel in that endeavor, what are we potentially leaving on the table?

A few years ago, Emergent and insight research firm Fresh Squeezed Ideas, conducted a webinar on the value of businesses working to define their unique Higher Purpose. The premise of this concept is relatively simple: people want to be a part of something that’s greater than themselves. The goal here, to imbue the brand with deeper meaning and by doing so reframe its value proposition while inspiring people to “join” the brand as believers not just buyers.

Beyond Meat says it wants to change how people eat while taking better care of our natural resources. This is different than selling reformulated vegan burgers. The opportunity here is significant when rethinking the mission and purpose of the business, and in doing so creating a more powerful narrative that will draw consumers towards the brand.

Large cap legacy food and beverage businesses struggle now in part because it’s harder to inject an established business platform with soul-like thinking. It’s a cultural transformation that has to start at the very top if it’s to have a prayer of altering the course of a larger enterprise.

Higher purpose is not reserved only for new and emerging brands. In fact, we’ve been surprised of late at the number of new food and beverage businesses that are stuck in the feature/benefit promotional cycle and have not developed any form of mission and purpose that could recast how consumers perceive them beyond a cleaner label.

So we ask: what can galvanize an organization to stretch itself and its brand persona beyond the daily battle for transactions?

Marketing magic is no longer reserved for the clever ad theme or artistic copy point. The old tools don’t work like they used to because the consumer isn’t listening and has the ability to avoid it entirely. People hunger for more honest, authentic connections to the brands that matter to them.

Yeti coolers is an iconic example of a brand that said, “no we are not in the better cooler business.” Instead they are enablers of outdoor adventure, tapping into a deep yearning people have for the experiences and lifestyle aspirations around fishing and hunting.

As a marketer what would you rather do? What kind of conversation do you want to build?

Apple created a way to remove intimidation from computer technology and provide a pathway for creative people to express themselves. The focus isn’t on the machine or its technology but on the aspirational desires and interests people have to make a difference in the world around them.

Reflexively, traditional thinking says the brand marketing should be waxing on about the product and its features. However, this injects the message with a disconnect. Instead, for greater communication effectiveness, the consumer must be the hero of the storytelling with the brand positioned as guide and enabler.

The question we often get is, how do you conduct discovery on what the right higher purpose should be?

Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis is intended to help arrive at the right purpose framework that reflects the unique DNA of the company. The process, however, begins with insight to the consumer’s lifestyle interests, passions, concerns, challenges, wants and needs.

That understanding then aligned with the company’s capabilities, beliefs and strengths helps lead us to a purpose that clarifies the business mission and informs marketing and messaging strategies.

Transparency for example can be viewed as an on-trend tactic. At a more strategic level it can solve three problems: first, to provide visibility to the supply chain. Second, to create consumer confidence in the quality and origin of ingredients used in products. Third, and at a more existential level, it is about embracing truth and honesty – two human characteristics people are naturally drawn to in an era of half-truths and missteps.

Honest Tea made honesty a hallmark of its mission and reason to be. The company ran an honesty gut-check through every aspect of how it conducted itself, how it presented the product and behaved in the marketplace. You may already know the success achieved there; the reframing of the RTD tea category they created and the multiples they reaped on sale of the business to Coca-Cola.

Example questions we explore:

  1. What journey is our consumer on and what can the brand help enable to improve their lives?
  2. What cultural shift or concern is important to users and how can we get involved?
  3. What do we believe as an organization and how can we operate to support a more purposeful mission?

When the brand acquires a Higher Purpose, it reframes the conversation with consumers, it enables storytelling opportunities that will draw consumers into considering or learning more about the brand. The business is no longer wed to aggregating eyeballs and attempting to win on the tonnage of media spend.

The impact on employees can be dramatic, too – the team also wants to be part of something greater than themselves and the organization can rally around the mission with amped up drive, power and commitment to the greater good.

Genuinely helping improve your customers’ lives is a satisfying calling, and this corporate form of reciprocity will attract rather than repel people from your marketing investments.

This is the path to sustainable growth and progress.

If you would like to know more about Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis, let us know.

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

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.

Simple, clear, concise communication needed in pet care business

The re-graining of the pet food business

February 12th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “The re-graining of the pet food business”

Will shift feed further confusion?

If anyone has any questions about the power of editorial (earned) media to impact consumer behavior and swing marketplaces, look no further than the DCM crisis of 2019 and the FDA’s announcement stumble.

The FDA publicly announced an investigation into an asserted link between certain grain-free diets and the onset of a heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. They included brand names of pet foods fed to some dogs included in the study. Irrespective of the merits of the investigation, whether or not a tangible connection exists to dietary formulas, the assertion of DCM (allegedly instigated by grain free foods) sent shockwaves through the industry.

Consumer uncertainty quickly followed. Most brands made a concerted effort to investigate, analyze and educate users. At the same time, a number of industry players who had previously embraced the grain-free juggernaut that has defined category growth outcomes for nearly a decade, quickly formulated alternative diets that use ancient grains, wholesome grains or a version of this. The objective was to answer any pet parent who is worried and wanting to make a switch – and keep them in the brand family.

Like anything, when a business launches new products, efforts are made to distribute it, gain shelf placement and promote to buyers. This momentum generates a self-fulfilling prophecy by helping bifurcate the premium market and throw a cooling trend on the sales heat that has followed grain-free pet food for a long time.

On-set of grain-free march to fame

The real momentum driver of the grain-free phenomenon can be traced back to the Menu Foods crisis of 2007 as hundreds of pets perished when tainted melamine ingredients from China showed up in US pet food. The fracturing of the industry, however, really resulted from a revelation that one company, Menu Foods, was manufacturing more than 100 brands of pet food. This stunning surprise to the consumer marketplace reversed decades of brand building that implied pet brands themselves were carefully preparing unique food solutions in their own kitchen, while also refocusing pet parents on examining what’s really inside that bag of kibble.

Smaller boutique brands that had quietly made higher quality, more protein forward foods jumped into the spotlight and web sites sprang up right and left to weigh in on recipes, ingredients and a redefined view of what constitutes a healthy, quality pet food. The emergence of ancestral diet that connected wolves to dogs and what animals would eat in their natural habitat, fed the grain-free segment headline as use of corn and related low-cost ingredients was vilified.

Marketplace confusion

Universally, human beings have an unassailable quirk – they refuse to tax their brains when confronted with complicated or confusing messaging. People quickly opt out and refuse to engage if the story is too dense or requires a PhD in nutrition science to understand what’s going on.

The merits of grain-free food have been a foundational aspect of pet food communication for years. As is always the case, the story generally attempts to elevate grain-free solutions at the expense of grain-based diets that had been a hallmark of the pet food industry historically.

The march to protein specsmanship was on after 2007 and the pet food business category posted year to year volume and share gains for brands that removed grains while adding protein. The story of meat-based diets made intuitive sense to people if you buy the wolf connection and that dogs and cats are essentially carnivores.

Now grain-based solutions begin to come back as a response to the FDA moves on DCM, opening another industry chapter, while at the same time creating a potential stew for communication disconnects. The finer points to grain or not to grain aside, while this appears on the surface to simply be offering choice, another gambit opens when these two formulations compete for attention and potentially contribute to confusion on the merits of both.

The antidote to pet food marketing confusion

Simple. Clear. Short. Concise messaging will be necessary to navigate the re-graining of pet food. No taxing of brains allowed. If the pet diet is primarily protein based, and the source of those proteins are from animal, poultry and fish, then the role of grains or legumes isn’t a mission critical part of the nutritional delivery story.

That aside, this emerging condition offers pet brands an exciting opportunity to enhance engagement and relevance. The love pet parents have for their pet is an important area to mine for communication that resonates — without adding to confusion on the grain and re-grain debate. The human/animal bond steps outside the protein percentage messaging wars to provide a rich arena for relevant brand-to-consumer conversations.

Transparency in the supply chain is yet another pathway into the product quality story that doesn’t require stepping on the jargon landmines of formulation detail and nuance. Trust and belief are paramount and best served when consumers can see the openness and honesty manifest in how the brand behaves and what it communicates about product creation.

In sum, clarity and emotion are two fundamental anchors for pet food brand communication that can help steer wide of the potential confusion of grains vs. no grains.

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

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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