Posts in storytelling

You are now selling sand in the desert…

February 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, e-commerce, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, shopper behavior, storytelling 0 comments on “You are now selling sand in the desert…”

Navigating the Impact of Infinite Choice

If ever there were a time when sound, informed strategy mattered to the success and outcomes of food, beverage and lifestyle marketing this would be it. Like it or not we’ve entered the era of nearly infinite consumer choices in a media environment of almost countless channels. This requires a new marketing formula.

Thinking at scale today takes on a completely different meaning when consumers are presented with so many options within a click to buy environment. Thus, how should you design for success when you’re ultimately selling sand in the desert? We will answer that question here.

Left to its natural course, food marketing tends to gravitate towards the vanilla middle – an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience – and in working to address everyone, you end up mattering to no one. When the options are legion this can quickly turn marketing and communication investments into a moonshot without navigation – the hit (or more often miss) driven by luck more than intention.

At various times we’ve written about the importance of putting consumers at the center of strategic planning. Now, we further qualify that statement by saying – in order for a strategic marketing plan to be measurably effective, putting consumers at the center of planning is table stakes. And determining who that consumer is will require even tougher decisions to prune and refocus the definition of the cohort you wish to serve. Why? Because the 80/20 rule is in full force as the vast majority of volume and profit will come from a smaller segment of committed advocates – assuming you’ve planned for relevance to a community of potential believers.

This is the most compelling argument ever for – different

Let’s start with a foundational understanding that the brand must be perceived as special, unique, useful and valuable before there’s any shot at being memorable. No one has the time or mental bandwidth any longer to assess the vast array of options in any given product category. So how do you resolve the reality of inexhaustible choice?

You must start with the intended core user and work backwards. Seth Godin made a cogent observation in his recent book “This is Marketing” when he described the effort behind what may be the most powerful TV commercial ever made – Apple’s “1984” spot for the launch of the Macintosh. The spot aired during the most watched American sports program on earth, the Super Bowl. The majority of viewers would not have understood or probably cared about what Apple was trying to convey in its dark Orwellian mini-movie.

The lesson: it didn’t have to register with everyone to be successful. Godin observed the spot only needed to touch a million savvy creators and early adopters who picked up that Apple was up to something revolutionary. The rest of the viewers didn’t matter, and indeed the rest is history given Apple’s ascent to brand superstardom. Whatever the brand, the audience of committed advocates will always remain relatively small.

It is with the small and devoted cohort where effort and outreach needs to be directed. And those investments should come from a concerted endeavor to push hard at the edges of what’s unique and different in your brand proposition. Here’s the question we often evaluate with clients: how can positioning, audience, product formulation, and the character of the brand, be dialed sufficiently to the right or left so that we’re able to create a new category – one that our client can own?

Who is it for and why?

To dial in your position successfully you then have to know who it’s for and why. It follows if you want to have meaningful relationships with consumers, then imbue your brand with greater meaning. But for whom?

That’s a big question that requires some rigor to answer correctly. Who is going to quickly respond and be drawn like a magnet to your product proposition? Once defined, all eyes and energy must be directed to fully understanding their hopes, dreams, needs and aspirations. Your marketing strategy is then fine-tuned to align with that insight, opening the door for the brand to become an enabler of their wants and needs – in a voice that’s relevant to them – becoming a reflection of their wants and how they’d like the world to perceive their beliefs and priorities.

This is important because purchases now are largely symbolic representations of what people want others to know about what they believe in and think.

The hard truth about marketing

Of note, we’re doing business in an environment overflowing with self-assured claims, assertions and hype. Here’s the difficult pill to swallow: people don’t believe any of it. The counterintuitive basis of effective marketing today is to not look, talk and walk like marketing.

That said, there is a reflexive habit in strategic planning to navel gaze. To focus on the craft of what’s been created, formulated or built. Here at Emergent we totally understand that spirit and where it comes from, after all most brands are justifiably proud of the considerable effort they invest in technology, quality and improvement. But this also sets the table for potential marketing disconnect.

You are not selling a food or beverage

In the same vein as pet food is sold to humans and not to dogs or cats, it isn’t the product that people are buying. What you are actually marketing are feelings, connection, desire, happiness and status. Not stuff, not items, not things in boxes or bags. Not chips or salsa or soup. People are buying a feeling and expression of their status and belief system.

So then, what’s the path to creating a marketing plan with this insight embedded all the way through? It will require all of the hands on the marketing tiller to be empathetic anthropologists of what the biggest brand fans are about.

Here are some areas to focus on strategically:

  • What your audience wants, not what you want to tell them
  • What they believe
  • What they need
  • What they aspire to
  • What story would emotionally resonate with them

The more you invest in seeking to understand, the more likely you are to land on the big idea (one that immediately influences the behavior of the business) and create a voice for the brand that is engaging and is shared. When you seek to improve the lives of your best customers, you earn permission for a relationship with them and the marketing you create comes across less like a transactional maneuver.

If you think this way, it will flow downstream to impact how the business operates. We already know that what the brand does is more powerful than what it says, so there’s an opportunity built into the recipe for authenticity.

Brand trust continues to decline, so the game plan must be to build it, earn it, cultivate it. The reason transparency has ascended to ever higher importance is precisely because people don’t accept anything on face value. Claims and assertions are exactly that. When you verify, validate and reveal the product creation story by letting consumers all the way in, it fosters belief and trust.

10 components of successful marketing  –

  1. You must push for positioning that’s truly unique, different and helps create a new category
  2. Refocus and narrow your audience definition to the smaller community of ardent fans
  3. Devote your insight research to this audience and discover how the brand sits in service of their lifestyle needs
  4. Become an enabler of their wants and desires
  5. Recognize you’re not selling a product but an emotional connection
  6. Activate brand experiences because behaviors speak louder than words
  7. Know that being relevant is more important than being superior
  8. Authentic storytelling to this audience is the path to engagement
  9. Trust is everything…you must earn it
  10. Transparency is the precursor to creating trust

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.

How to put the consumer at the center of your marketing

January 30th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, storytelling 0 comments on “How to put the consumer at the center of your marketing”

Is it inward contemplation or outward relevance that drives growth?

Brand navel-gazing is exactly that – an inward preoccupation with your product and business advantages. With consumers increasingly objecting to anything that looks and sounds like overt product selling, is it time for a new model?

The historical approach tends to repeat…

When I started in the agency business in Seattle, my first formal account assignment was a regional packaged foods company named Nalley’s. I was to take over the account for a senior agency team member who was moving over to handle a new client. During our first formal visit the hand-off occurred, and I found myself meeting with the four brand managers who ran chips/snacks, canned meals, dressings and pickles, respectively.

At each meeting the client’s marketing executive provided a brief of the business, describing the strategic features, benefits and advantages of their products over competitive offerings. Of course my job was to creatively, persuasively communicate those points of difference to consumers.

This feature and benefit briefing was a staple of how things operated in almost every business category the agency served.With virtually every client there was a laser-like focus on recipes, technologies and operational achievements. As such, plans would always spring from this information, often matched to various forms of testing designed to determine which claim would be most memorable and compelling to the target audience.

In the business of building businesses, companies expend great effort to refine their products and operations, as they should. The goal of course is to stay ahead of the competition and achieve some measure of superiority and differentiation. The marketing team looks to these achievements as evidence of compelling reasons for selecting and buying.

  • This system, which is pervasive across so many divergent business categories, tends to reinforce a point of view that marketing is on the right track when it focuses the product features/benefits; so carefully created and packaged.

After all, an organization’s systems and activities are engaged in constant improvement and refinement so this effort tends to inform the strategy!

Executives believe this data ladders up to the formula for driving growth and expansion. More specifically, when an editorial story or advertisement messages around these advantages, benefits and formulation improvements, we reflexively believe this argument forms the basis of brand preference.

We know more today about how people actually operate

Except for one thing. We’ve learned people are not analytical, fact-based decision- making machines. Humans are irrational creatures driven instead by feelings and emotions, often without self-awareness that this is how everyone behaves.

However we like to think of ourselves as logical, thoughtful analysts who carefully consider the facts, weigh the merits and then decide. In reality, we are steered by how we feel in the presence of a brand or business. It is emotion that informs actions. Yet so much of what goes into the crafting of communication is based on analytical backgrounding and introspective messaging.

When I got married 22 years ago, I went from dating to the altar in 12 months. It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made. So, was the move to propose founded on a conscious consideration of the personal pros and cons, the facts of my intended’s upbringing and family history, education and career prospects? Heavens no! It was how I felt about her. I knew in my heart of hearts she was the one. It was a powerful, visceral sense of love, passion, rightness and earnest conviction.

My subconscious brain knew more about the salience and relevance of this relationship than any fact-based roll-up of so-called “features.” In all cases, all of the time it is heart-over-head. We are feeling creatures that think and not the other way around.

How does this manifest in communication?

Emergent’s stellar pet food client, Champion Petfoods, makes some of the finest pet food on earth. You could fill volumes on the details underneath their formulations that ladder up to optimal nutrition for dogs and cats.

It is easy to become pre-occupied with the analytical facts of proteins, vitamins and minerals served in a bowl. We know the anecdotal stories of transformation and change in pets’ lives from eating these foods. The improvements to their health, wellbeing and happiness are far more persuasive through the emotional voices of loving pet parents than any fact-based presentation of formulation and protein ingredient percentages.

Stop focusing inwardly

So what does this mean? In order to achieve consumer engagement we must thoroughly, fully understand the interests and aspirations of those with whom we hope to communicate. We need to get underneath what matters to them and how the client’s brand can operate in making their lives better.

The brand must operate in service of a deeper meaning than just commerce. How can we improve the customer’s life; how do we add value and become an enabler of things they care about?

We must actively mine the emotional turf that resides under what people want and care about. In the case of pets, we know that food quality is linked to a sense of welfare and wellbeing for cats and dogs. The higher quality of food purchased is an expression of how much people love their pet. The emotional grist lies in the relationship and companionship with pets, and a desire that our four-legged family members remain happy and healthy.

Marketers can trumpet statistics on protein contributions and the role of nutritionally dense ingredients to delivering what dogs and cats require. In doing so the brand may have missed the bond, the relationship, and yes, the love being expressed and the importance of this dynamic to happiness.

  • Our actions are influenced by how we feel; how we resonate to the brand and our sense of comfort and trust in it. The facts and figures exist only in support of the emotional narrative.

The litmus test for effectiveness

Here’s how to judge the merits of communications plans and proposals:

First, is there an assessment and review of the consumer – their wants, needs, dreams, aspirations and lifestyle interests? This is what is meant by putting the consumer first – insight on their interests that informs go-to-market strategy.

  1. Question number one: has effort been made to draw linkage between what we know about the consumer and how the brand and business can become a partner and enabler of those lifestyle needs?
  2. Has messaging been constructed around breathing life into emotional cues that hold up a mirror to how the consumer wants the world around them to perceive who and what they are?
  3. Have we looked at the cultural symbols relevant today for what consumers expect and want? Are those symbols showing up in the communication we produce?
  4. Are we creating synergy across all touch points from store to online to package to media to social channel?
  5. Are we tugging on the heartstrings? Are we keyed into the central motivation for why people want things, and the desires they have for a higher quality life?

If we wish to communicate in a way that’s understood and appreciated by the sub-conscious brain it will involve emotional cues. The facts and figures operate as reinforcement for ‘why’ we made a good decision post-purchase.

Moving from brief to resonance

So, instead of marching every marketing conversation down the hall of inwardly focused feature and benefit briefs and documents about technologies and product superiority, we should firstseek to understand the hearts and passions of those we wish to engage.

This is fundamentally a call for more (better) research: the kind that uncovers what makes customers happy; what they seek for fulfillment; where the pain points are; what they aspire to be – and then work creatively to create linkage between what we learn and how the brand is an active participant in achieving those goals.

  • This is how we earn permissionfor a meaningful relationship and how the emotional fabric is knit that leads consumers to brand trust and purchase. The operational and technical savvy is what delivers satisfaction with product experience, and thus powers a repeat purchase.

I get wistful at times thinking if we had known back in the day what we know now about how human beings operate — our strategies would have been much different, probably more powerful and effective.

While we can’t go back in time and make corrections we can carve a new path to victory; one based on putting the consumer at the center of planning strategy. This is harder than it looks because the inward focus on product features and technologies is ingrained in business cultures big and small.

But times have changed and what do we now know?

If you don’t change with the times, you’re probably in trouble.

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 new marketing paradox: belief over benefit

October 18th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “The new marketing paradox: belief over benefit”

Values even more powerful than product story

Every brand in the food and beverage universe is looking for advantage and traction in a business environment that tends to reward the unique and disruptive. What might be most telling about the shifts in consumer behaviors today, is the emergence of belief, purpose and mission as powerful platforms that connect brands with consumers.

Time to bare your soul

Since the dawn of the modern marketing and communications era, brands have been preoccupied with features and benefits. Said more simply: a laser focus on the product and its attributes. Why not, after all that’s why companies exist, right? To make a superior product and convey all of the inspiration that goes on inside it?

Except that with the rise in technology and the fall of barriers-to-entry in virtually every category have wrung out the ability to truly stand tall and alone on the mountain of superiority. Parity in virtually every category is a thing driven by tech advances that allow nearly everyone to come within shooting distance of each other on recipe, ingredients, formulation, design and related benefits. There are exceptions to this, but not a ton of them.

Sameness is a significant challenge, because despite claims to the contrary smart and adroit, informed consumers see through the marketing haze to understand that pound for pound many brands are interchangeable on the basis of product ingredients and creation alone.

Instead competition has moved now to a battle of beliefs, meaning and higher purpose. Consumers want to know what you stand for, what purpose you bring in concert with the thing you make.

Nike pounds belief and it shakes their category

The campaign around Colin Kaepernick is more Say It than Just Do It. “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything,” is the clarion call of our age. Whether or not you side with Kaepernick on his politics, his sacrificial stand on principle serves to put his beliefs squarely on the marketing chin. Nike celebrates the outsized commitment of this fearlessness and resolve. So what does that have to do with running shoes? Everything.

  • Consumers resonate to brands that espouse a point of view and work to enable an overwhelming desire to be part of something that is greater than themselves.

Purpose, meaning and values represent an evolution of marketing best practices — as the message moves closer to honoring the greater good than just the goods themselves.

This doesn’t imply that product communication is gone or will ever evaporate. Rather it means that higher purpose gains a pole position as an essential ingredient in the go-to-market gameplan.

As we’ve said before here at Emergent, if your company were to disappear tomorrow from the face of the earth, what would be missing from the world that people would truly miss? You can’t answer that by saying your investors and shareholders would be unhappy.

Adding value beyond the product

The health and wellness of people is an important thing. It transcends the ordinary trope of marketing as ‘please buy my product’ and places it in the rarefied air of being authentically helpful to people beyond the sale.

Here’s the irony: the degree to which brands can embrace a higher calling and become enablers of lifestyle aspirations, the more successful they will be in earning trust and permission for a consumer relationship.

To do this however, requires a more enlightened point of view about why the business exists and what it’s designed to accomplish. The goal of greater sales growth is served by emphasizing not just the sale but also a package of values that acknowledges people aren’t just walking wallets.

The Path to Higher Purpose

This is not about philanthropy and it is harder than it looks. In fact, hard enough that we have designed an entire process called Brand Sustainability Analysis to help guide a brand towards discovery or refinement of its deeper meaning.

  • Consumer insight becomes a driver to help success breakout for the very simple reason that purpose must be based on a visceral understanding of the consumer’s hopes, dreams, aspirations and concerns.

The goal is to seek alignment with these interests and the brand so it can become an advisor and guide on the pathway consumers want to follow. Health and wellness is one of those important journeys that brands should support.

The Courageous Marketer

The challenge here is the break with tradition. Features and benefit have been a default mechanism grinding the wheels of marketing for eons. We make it, we love what we make, and we sell it. To be sure. However, when trust in brands and business is at an all-time low and engagement is entirely in the hands of consumers, a different approach is required — one that will probably feel counterintuitive at first.

However once discovered and embraced, higher purpose and mission can galvanize an organization to bring focus and clarity to virtually every corner of the operation. Messaging takes on a more useful tone as the organization works to genuinely improve their users’ lives. Storytelling here immediately gets more powerful and impactful because it’s also more relevant.

Marketing no longer looks like marketing. It doesn’t walk, talk and look like a sales pitch. In doing so, trust can be cultivated. These days trust may be the most important attribute your brand can work to own. The beauty here is in the uniqueness and differentiation this path will provide.

It will require courage, but nothing worth doing can be done without it.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

How to get the very best from your agency partners

April 27th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, Emergent Column, Insight, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “How to get the very best from your agency partners”

What do good clients do?

Marketing isn’t easy. It’s tough and intellectually demanding. It requires an integrated understanding of product and brand strategy, coalesced with consumer insight and served in a warm basket of relevant creative, business-building solutions.

  • There’s really no way to do this well without both parties getting deeply involved in the work.

Unless of course, the goal is just to mark time and fill slots for a la carte communications tactics across a spectrum of expected “support tools” identified in a marketing plan.

On the other hand, if the goal of engaging an agency in the first place is transformative business results then the aforementioned collaborative effort is mission critical.

So what’s the alchemy that governs whether or not this kind of client/agency collaborative thinking occurs? What’s required in the relationship dynamic that makes for fertile ground in delivering out-sized outcomes?

Here it is, in a word: partnership. The truly successful agency and client relationships perform optimally because of aligned interests and goals. But what does that word partner really mean?

  • It begins as a unique way of thinking and behaving with your agency allies that springs from a foundation of trust and inclusion: “yes, we’re in this together.”

For context you can look at the flip side. The opposite of partner might be vendor: an outside supplier cost center to be managed and controlled; confined to a set of stay-in-your-lane guardrails and vertical silo thinking. A fulfillment cog in the marketing wheel to deliver a communications tactic, be it PR, advertising, social media, content or the like. Absence of genuine client/agency trust equates to “relationships” that are governed financially with one-sided agendas (spend as little as possible) and keeping agencies at a ‘do your job’ distance.

The true value of an agency partner

Good agencies are an amalgam of consultant and guide, business strategist, creative thinker, an outside resource devoted to marketing, strategy and communication across a spectrum of businesses and categories.

Better firms are also an elite think tank of communication insight experts. The best of them see a client’s business challenges holistically and not just as a place to apply artistic skill sets in creating engaging campaigns – as if the goal of the ad agency is just making another ad, or the PR firm slating another media interview – rather than their full engagement in creating a strategic solution to address the client’s need or problem in whatever form that might take.

But to really gain the most of a mutual investment, a relationship a true partnership must be symbiotic, with shared wins and benefits.

What do agencies want?

  • Clients that bring them all the way in and share every relevant detail of how their business operates and the challenges they face. Thus, providing enough visibility to information so an agency can truly serve as a trusted and entrusted advisor.
  • Clients should openly ask for counsel, both informative and challenging. Those who overtly say – “we want your best advice, your best ideas at all times. We want your honesty, too, when you think we’re not making a good decision.”
  • Clients who recognize that agencies are businesses too, and deserve to make a reasonable profit from the relationship. This manifests usually as a declaration from the client early in a new assignment: “we want our account to be a profitable one in your company and in return we ask for the very best of your experienced minds engaged to help meet our business goals and solve our problems.”
  • Clients who routinely ask their agencies to weigh in on challenging issues whether they be operational, R&D, cultural, financial or marketing; these are the very best clients because it’s so exceptional when it happens. These clients recognize the breadth, experience and value of agencies that often come equipped with prior experience where similar challenges have been solved successfully. Music to agency ears is the sweet song of trust and respect these requests imply.

Agency obligations

Superior athletes reach for the very best every time they take the field. So, too, agencies have to bring their “A” game everyday. There’s no way to do that unless you become invested in and are passionate about the client’s business. If the agency is operating with the client’s needs and best interests in mind, this will be evident in the daily effort, responsiveness and program outcomes.

  • If the agency sees client work simply as a financial management proposition, then the focus will be on deliverables within budgets, management of staff time to this agenda, and a quick move to ring the alarm bell if work goes out of scope. Nothing wrong with disciplined business management, but if the culture is primarily about managing for profit rather than adding value to the client relationship, the former will subtract from the latter.
  • So for agencies, the partnership begins with making the client’s business a continuing, ongoing study: evaluating and tracking the competitive environment, trade media, and other sources of business intelligence. The more you know the better this gets. It’s as if the client’s business is your own and thus worthy of the attention this priority will receive.
  • This ongoing commitment should be delivered in an envelope of respect for the superior knowledge clients possess of their own business. At times, in the name of leadership, agencies can get off track into “my way” land, based on we-know-best thinking. This form of arrogance usually ends in disintegration of trust and has no place in the mutual respect universe. Disagreement is ok and expected. Brinksmanship, though, is no way to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

Humanity – the glue that binds

When there’s belief that people from both camps are operating in mutual best interest, then agency and client combinations will work optimally. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, business decisions are made emotionally not rationally. It is the human condition.

We sense almost immediately when people are genuine, when we like each other, when we’re being honest and open. Life is short, and thus fit and chemistry matter. The kind of fit that occurs when people think highly of each other and actively work to see things from the other’s point of view.

So optimally, a good dose of values, integrity and empathy becomes the daily vitamin all involved in the client/agency partnership ingest to keep the mission focused on success all the way round.

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.

Pet food transparency

The Pet Food Business Dilemma: Obfuscate

April 10th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “The Pet Food Business Dilemma: Obfuscate”

When communication is intentionally blurry, muddled, cloudy and befogged

It’s not often I get to employ a $50 word in a story, but in this case obfuscate may be the perfect verb to characterize the occasional disconnect from a pet parent’s desire for more clarity and transparency in how pet food is presented, and the sometimes confounding and less straight-forward information actually served.

Is it crystal clear to you?

Dirty water makes it hard to see the bottom of the pond.

In the eyes of the consumer, pet food is a leap-of-faith business. Brands make assertions about the quality, origins and freshness of ingredients; the correct and superior combinations of real food ingredients that ultimately make a difference in the health and wellbeing of four-legged family members.

  • What’s in the little brown kibble pellet? We’re required to believe it contains fresh, deboned chicken, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef or vegetables, fruits and other human-friendly whole food ingredients. We also know that animals can’t talk and consumers aren’t food scientists. So trust and faith becomes the currency that defines brand relationships.

Transparency means transparent.

When at the butcher counter in your food store you can see the steak, its marbling, height and color. You can make judgments on its quality before buying. In contrast, kibble or canned pet food from brand to brand looks roughly the same and so verification of food quality by visual examination is not possible. Casting statements on ingredient decks can be confounding to many but the most ardent students of pet food ingredient terminology; those able to translate code for higher-quality proteins from something less than that.

Transparent behaviors in this industry couldn’t be more important. The frequency of pet food recalls serve as the reminder for vigilance…and can breed consumer skepticism. This uncertainty is amplified against an evolving food culture where people today want to know the backstory behind the foods they buy for themselves and for their pets. How did this new-found interest in ingredient transparency come to pass?

The desire for transparency is a cultural phenomenon that got traction when people fully connected the dots between the quality of the food they eat and the quality of their lives.

They expect no less of their pets’ diets.

If ingredients are sourced from local farms and ranches, brands should show and tell this story. If there are standards on the quality of ingredients to be used, they should be stated clearly and simply so it can be understood by anyone. The curtain raised on how manufacturing is done, what form ingredients take, how and why they are combined – the trail from farm to can or bag that helps belief materialize in a trusted, credible way.

  • If belief is to be achieved in what is essentially a faith-based business, truth must be multiplied by transparency and clarity. People want to see all the way to the bottom of the supply chain pond, so to speak. The sum of these interactions and conversations is to validate, rather than obfuscate, what we want people to know and believe about pet food.

Wordplay vs. Openness

The core essence of trust creation is the deployment of words and what they mean. When honesty and integrity rule the relationship with pet parents, then parsing definitions to create more palatable descriptions – while obfuscating the truth – is at best misguided and not based in sound strategy…and at worst is disingenuous.

Pets are no longer owned assets to be maintained. They are family. The impact of quality nutrition of their health and welfare is a real thing. Moreover, when answering what the customer wants, it is this: “healthy, high quality food choices, just like I prefer for myself and my family.”

  • So how are honesty and openness best served when the form the product takes leaves no trace of evidence on which to base judgments? Pull back the curtain and tell the story, fully, completely, in video where words and pictures combine to let everyone in to see for themselves.

Outside independent verification testing and deployment of Blockchain technology may close this loop fully to provide the assurance people want. But importantly, what’s embedded in your brand values and mission will inform how all this goes, and whether or not crystal clear is the true call to action for company behaviors.

What’s at stake?

Trust and brand reputation.

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.

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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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