Posts in storytelling

Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator

November 10th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator”

Case study: How to become a truly transparent brand

The impact of the ‘always on’ digitally-enabled world we live in is an emerging consumer desire to know the backstory and details of how products are created. Not surprising when you factor in the number one lifestyle concern for people across all age segments is health and wellness. This seek-to-understand behavior is transforming the human and pet food industries.

In parallel, consumers now care deeply about the businesses’ respective mission, purpose, and authenticity – seeking to connect with brands which share their values. As a result, consumers want to understand what’s in the food they’re buying and how the company’s standards and mission are brought to life inside the products they make.

Why is this happening?

Relevance:

First, consumers have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. People care about the foods they’re eating – and want to know more about them. Equally true for pet food.

Belief:

Second, because of eroding, declining trust in the claims and assertions made by brands about their products – consumers are seeking objective, credible sources of information to help them make their own informed judgments.

Personally symbolic:

Third, purchases have become emblematic of what people want the outside world to believe is important to them – so they seek reassurance of high-quality ingredients, ethical standards, healthier and made sustainably.

The concept of Transparency has floated to the top as shorthand for this intense, growing desire to experience and verify what brands claim about their products.

Why this should matter to you:

Consumer trust precedes any kind of relationship and willingness to engage with a brand or product. Trust is earned, not inherently owned – and is based on intentional investments (that don’t look, smell or feel like advertising) to secure it.

If you want your marketing to be welcomed (rather than click to avoid) and believed, then trust is a fundamental requirement. Transparency provides an operable platform for how this is achieved.

What is transparency?

Being truly transparent is about openness, disclosure, access and operating in a trustworthy and forthright manner. Call it actively encouraging observation, scrutiny and reporting from outside sources.

Verifying and validating what you want others to believe about your quality and integrity commitments creates the opportunity for a meaningful conversation with consumers and stakeholders. Respect and reputation are not commodities that come along with simply existing. They are difficult to create and hard to hold onto over time.

Best practices case study: Champion Petfoods

Disclaimer: this is a platform Emergent created and brought to life for Champion after a comprehensive audit of their operations, strengths and unique company commitments.

It goes without saying the pet food industry universally demands trust from its core customers. Given the nature of the product form (ubiquitous brown kibble) pet parents are required to buy into the statements and claims made by brands concerning ingredient quality and how the food is prepared.

Driving this interest is the intense desire pet parent have to express their love for their pets through the quality of the diet provided. Engaged pet owners try as best they can to discern product labels to understand the meaning of words, phrases and insider language used in the pet food world (like meat meal).

Still, a trust gap exists between what’s claimed by brands versus what can be credibly verified.

  • According to a recent study reported in Pet Food Industry magazine, 75% of consumers are willing to switch from their current brand to one that provides more in-depth product information than what appears on the physical label. That’s up from 39% in 2016.

Champion Petfoods is at the forefront of the protein forward, meat-focused, biologically appropriate approach to what has been popularly described as ancestral diet. The company’s early success was attributed to pioneering the focus on percentages of high-quality proteins in the recipe. Champion uses comparatively high levels of fresh and raw animal meat respectful of the physiology and eating anatomy of dogs and cats.

Additionally, to deliver on their mission the company started early to invest in an extensive network of regional farms, ranches and fish supplier partnerships to provide real food ingredients, many within driving distance of their kitchens. This helps enable Champion to be fully transparent about their ingredient sources, sustainability commitments and aligned production standards for its Orijen and Acana brands.

The Champion Transparency Council

The Transparency Council platform was created by Emergent, to address consumers’ evolving need to know more, and in so doing, begin a new conversation with them that addresses their questions about ingredients and safety, nutrition and quality.

This more earnest and authentic approach – galvanized by the Council’s independence and third-party voice – manifested as a sophisticated content engine designed to cement trust and generate a more informative and engaging brand communication.

Highlights:

Emergent conducted a comprehensive recruiting effort for expert Veterinary physician members and a social media based public search for two pet parents to join the four-member Council.

Their mission:  to observe, verify and report on everything Champion does related to making pet food.

Given the significance of trust and transparency to the Council’s mission, it was critical to leverage Champion’s unique supply chain relationships, state-of-the-art kitchens and knowledgeable personnel to underscore the integrity of its stated Biologically Appropriate pet food mandate.

Outcomes:

  • The Council delivered an ongoing content creation platform that carries with it the authentic voice of outside third-party experts and pet parents, offering valuable communication that people want rather than seek to avoid.
  • Champion secured the mantle of Transparency industry leadership at a time when this is an important consideration on the path to purchase.
  • Champion went from zero to 60 quickly as an industry leading editorial voice, in part because the Council and its activity was precedent-setting and newsworthy for the industry.

Emergent Guidance:

  1. Transparency is best served with embedded credibility, using the voices of independent, third parties to report and verify what the company claims about its products.
  2. Openness is a prerequisite and underscores a perception of inclusiveness and honesty.
  3. Seeing is believing, so the deployment of third parties helps fuel an ongoing source of reporting that, over time, can evolve into a channel of helpful, useful guidance on issues and topics important to core customers.
  4. Transparency-based information is ready-made for social channel distribution and helps close the loop on what brand fans believe and say is the reason for their advocacy and brand evangelism.
  5. We have left the era of brand-voiced assertions of performance, and entered a time when trust is paramount and earning it is a requirement for success. Invoking the transparency word in a sentence isn’t nearly as powerful as backing it up with authentic behaviors and actions.

If you’re exploring the power of transparency and would like to know more details about this case study and the tactics, activation and media we deployed, let’s find a time to talk.

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 5 P’s of CPG Marketing

October 30th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Growth, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “The New 5 P’s of CPG Marketing”

Planning shifts to a set of consumer-savvy principles

During the old command, control and persuasion era of brand building, the common ground for planning coalesced around the legacy 5 P’s of marketing: product, price, promotion, place and people. Brands took charge of their destiny and managed their future progress mostly with increased advertising spending.

Now, things have dramatically changed.  Technology has:

  • Shifted control of brand engagement to consumers
  • Massively disrupted and reshaped food culture and preferences
  • Knocked down the barriers to entry for new food and beverage ideas
  • Enabled these ideas to rapidly find a market and scale
  • Allowed the small and artisanal to gain traction, and redefine what quality expectation is
  • Empowered people to share experiences and influence the trajectory of business
  • Changed the face of brand communication, now about relevance and deeper meaning
  • Exposed the inauthentic and triggered the move to greater transparency
  • Informed the growth of online communities and the role of credible influence to build trust

Perhaps the most salient example of transformation yet is the landmark 2017 Deloitte and FMI study revealing the disruption of the old taste, price and convenience purchase behavior yardsticks for food and beverage products. These legacy drivers are now eclipsed by a new set of criteria including health and wellness, transparency, visibility to the supply chain and food safety.

The primary conclusion from all of this – is the rise of consumer-centric planning based on recognition that future growth is shaped by a brand’s ability to create and hold alignment with the needs, interests, desires and concerns of their core users. For the most part, the original 5 P’s were inwardly focused on the company’s products and self-directed decisions. Now the move to consumer control requires a more enlightened view of strategic plans founded on up-close customer insight.

Here are the new 5 P’s of marketing planning:

Engagement has moved beyond the product to include other important areas of value and meaning to people.

  1. Purpose

Purchases are now symbolic of what consumers want the world to believe they think is important. Thus shared values have surfaced as a core tenet in brand preference and the consumer’s willingness to engage rather than avoid marketing outreach. Purpose isn’t philanthropy. Consumers want to attach themselves to brands that carry deeper meaning and intentionally build their business around a higher purpose that rises above transactions – focused on authentically improving the consumer’s life and the world around us.

  1. Pride

People want to be inspired by use of the brand. Purchases are not secured through analytical arguments and fact-based selling of yore. Today’ consumers arrive at their decisions from the heart not the head, based on a feeling they have in the presence of the brand. Inspiration, aspiration, desire, impact and purpose form the recipe for baking the emotional attachment people have with the brands that matter to them.

  1. Partnership

If brands now exist to improve the lives of their users and become an enabler of their aspirations, then this less self-centered approach automatically requires a measure of authentic partnership between the players. How do genuine partners operate? Reciprocity today is an important component in how brands and consumers interact with each other. As a true lifestyle partner, brands can operate as coaches and guides on the path to a healthier, happier life that people aspire to lead.

  1. Protection

Brand relationships must be built on a foundation of belief and trust. These qualities now are earned through experience and verified by sources and voices people trust. Consumers want to feel secure in the knowledge that favored brands will always have their best interests and safety at heart, and will not put them at risk either through degradations of standards or processes that put the company’s self-interest above their own.

  1. Personalization

We are awash in data about the preferences and interests of users. Brands know more about consumer preference than ever before, ushering in a new era of customization. Product offers can be tailored to the consumer’s specific needs and interests. How this condition manifests will be a key component in strategic planning in the years ahead. People will come to expect that brands understand who they are, what they care about and will deliver products that meet those needs.

Bernadette Jiwa, one of our most literate and erudite marketing minds, has an uncanny ability to distill transformative change into its most fundamental elements. Here’s how she recently expressed the relationship between brands and consumers:

“Most marketing makes the company the hero.

Most companies go to great lengths to prove that their product is better.

Most marketers’ main aim is to close the sale.

The most effective marketing makes the customer the hero.

Beloved brands show people who they can become in the presence of their product. 

The best marketers give people something to believe in, not just something to buy.”

Increasingly brand relationships are taking on the characteristics of human friendships where honesty, openness and trust are paramount. The great news in all of this is the potential reward of curating tribes of believers who “join” the brand not as buyers but as fans and followers.

Most exciting is the depth and breadth of “voice” brands can earn by moving from source of product to resource and partner. We’re no longer dependent on the artifice of paid cinematic style advertainment to encounter, inform and converse with our best customers. Instead, we now have the freedom to engage with them genuinely…authentically…you know, like people.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, Emergent Column, Healthy Living, storytelling 0 comments on “Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement”

Our ‘elevator speech’ requires unconventional response

At the recent GroceryShop convention “Friends of the Future” networking event we helped produce in Las Vegas, I was asked repeatedly, “what is Emergent?” – The event was an exciting veritable meet-and-greet mosh pit of first-time introductions. At one point a colleague of ours from the Food Marketing Institute turned to me during an overture to a Pepsico executive and said, “Bob, give him the elevator speech about Emergent.”

In these moments when time and everyone’s headspace is at a premium, we tend to default to the simple explanation, frequently bound up in the tactics of what we do. So reflexively I reached for the convenient list of tools in the toolbox: brand strategy and positioning guidance, earned and social media, etc.

I left these conversations thinking, “that really doesn’t convey the essence of our secret sauce.”

A reflection on who we are and why that should matter to you

When we look back over time at the special moments when clients have allowed us to rise to our very best, we find a legacy of bigger ideas and strategic concepts that represent game changes of various kinds in various categories.

Understanding that transformational change is at the core of what we do, this immediately shifts the focus from tactics and tools to strategic platforms that inform the solution. Candidly, communications tactics without a strategic, differentiating concept forming the foundation underneath are just messaging vessels.

So here it is: Emergent is in the CPG brand and food retail transformation business, delivering strategic platforms that can impact the behavior of the organization and its business to bring incremental, sustainable growth. Yes, we can actualize strategic ideas all the way to the ground and execute at the tactical level, but it’s the diagnostic upfront and our ability to not only see the big picture but distill the barriers to added growth that represents our defining moments with clients.

The real secret sauce is Lori Miller, my partner, and me in our strategic diagnostic analysis that helps build a roadmap for change. More often than not, we find organizations mired in the conventions and routines in their category and how they go to market. Thinking differently means looking for the marketing “zig” when everyone else is “zagging.” This is baked into how we tend to see things. Uniqueness and differentiation are never overrated.

Clients desperately want their marketing investments to hit engagement squarely on the head, no pun intended. Engagement these days, however, demands a customer-first approach to literally everything a company does.

Rule number one – we know the consumer is in charge and control of the brand relationship, requiring businesses to be less self-absorbed and more creative and agile in how they look at the opportunity to earn permission for a relationship.

Yes, relationship.

Consumers are on the hunt for deeper meaning in the products that matter to them and want brands they choose to engage with and buy, to be a mirror of their values and passions.

So, as a strategic brand communications platform, the standard, “let’s focus on the product features and benefits” messaging as the marketing chin you lead with is a non-starter. Self-reverential communication is exactly that.

Thus at Emergent, we are indeed Architects of Engagement. We work to ameliorate the tendency to dance the dance of self-serving promotion when the real opportunity starts with enabling, coaching, and guiding your consumers on their journey to greater fulfillment. This is where the messaging focus and relationships move beyond transactional interruptions and pleas. The goal is authentic alignment and conversation with consumers and the opportunity then for legitimate interaction and belief.

A specific point of view that recurs in our work

One of Emergent’s key insights is reflected in our agency’s ‘Validation Marketing’ planning model. We believe that consumers increasingly are challenged to trust the assertions and claims made by brands. In our digital always-on world, we all are confronted daily with a variety of public revelations in the media of misdeeds, scandals, errors of omission, half-truths and hyperbole.

Brand trust has taken a hit, and year on year, we see evidence of declines. Earning trust is fundamental to successful marketing outcomes and so we develop transformational strategic platforms, tools and tactics that help burnish trust, including:

  • A first-in-its-industry Transparency Council for a premium pet food brand in a category where consumer demand to know more about what’s in the food and how it’s made is valued and differentiating; and
  • Creating the first “True Cheese” trust mark in the cheese industry in a segment marred by product fraud and mislabeling to elevate our client’s brand and integrity above the bad acters.

We strategically deploy social media as a pipeline to social proof in the observations of delighted user stories.

We engage outside experts and credible voices to help validate what a brand states are the essential truths about their product.

We employ earned media to bring the imprimatur of editorial, reportorial assessments in consumer and trade news channels.

We create videos, that in unscripted moments, capture the essence of consumer experience and ‘see for yourselves’ tours behind the product creation curtain.

In the end, it’s our empathy for consumers as people and insight into their desires and concerns that is embedded in Emergent’s thinking. This is foundational as a primary skill in our client engagements; best seen in our devotion to putting the consumer at the center of planning each and every time. Out of that study comes relevant messaging we can successfully deploy.

Health and wellness – redefined – no longer a tertiary consideration

One visit to our web site and there in headline form is this recurring statement about Healthy Living. For a long time, “healthy” was defined as a food science proposition in varying attempts to create addition (healthier) by subtraction – less calories, fat, sugar or sodium.

Now, health and wellness are fundamental to what consumers want and is redefined as emphasis on high quality, real food experiences – less processed and with a provenance story to tell – that delivers greater transparency to the supply chain and entire product creation process.

  • We know how to bring this to life and secure relevance to these principles at a time when consumers absolutely demand it.

We’re on a mission, too

As keepers of this essential truth and the flame of consumer relevance as the non-negotiable precursor to engagement and purchase, we see our mission to bring this understanding to organizations seeking to write a new chapter – whether that’s an emerging brand or an established legacy business.

This is what gets us up in the morning and characterizes our ambitions and goals for what Emergent brings to the marketing challenge for our clients.

Should this strike a chord with you, we should talk.

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.

 

 

Shared Values Signal Purchase Intent

September 14th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Shared Values Signal Purchase Intent”

Are you speaking clearly or in Morse Code?

During World War II and prior to the U.S. entering the war, the British government working feverishly to counteract the devastating German Blitzkrieg, authorized the launch of a spy network intended to sabotage the Nazi war infrastructure. It was called the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and began training ordinary people with a passion for country and duty to become spies and saboteurs. Their principle form of communication would be Morse Code. The objective to avoid detection while operating behind enemy lines.

The cinematic stories of heroism and sacrifice are legion as SOE undertook its desperate calling to disrupt – by blowing up trains and power stations, often while hiding in plain sight. These days some brand communication starts to feel a bit like spy-savvy Morse Code. Businesses can find it hard to step away from internally-focused, self-reverential monologues and ‘us-speak’ to, instead, talk plainly and directly with people about what THEY care about. Conversation not code.

It was strong beliefs and shared values that underscored the passions and bravery of SOE operatives that drove their communication. Those same characteristics, passion of shared interests, values and connection, now mark the attitudinal changes governing how people interact with brands and make purchase decisions.

Consumer behavior research over the last five years has monitored the change to what we call ‘symbolic purchase’. As beliefs and values increasingly shape popular culture and thinking, we observe that people use their purchases to flag to others who they are and what they care about. Purchases have become posters of personal expression and are largely emblematic demonstrations people believe will telegraph to everyone what they think is important. Not in Morse Code but in real, observable terms.

What Are Your Values and Are They Aligned with your desired consumers?

You may have detected the increased importance of shared values in how consumers decide what brands and businesses matter enough to them to be granted a small portion of brain time, consideration and wallet. For many years, marketers were preoccupied with efforts to convey their, hopefully, superior product features and benefits in the firm belief that logic and rational arguments would hold sway. After all, it’s 25 percent faster than the other leading brand, right?

People have evolved, and our insight optics have improved. We know that humans are driven by heart-over-head – and that all purchases are influenced through emotional connectivity. Indeed, it is the absence of genuine connection that sits at the foundation of why some brands struggle to truly engage their customers.

This isn’t, by the way, a discussion of new media channels or digital platforms, mostly social, as a means to secure the engagement sweet spot. Failure to nail relevance can be traced back to overlooking a prerequisite to correctly mine the consumers’ continual search for deeper meaning.

What your brand says, does, how it behaves and the many signals it broadcasts (some intentional and some simply reflected by actions – which always speak louder than words) either reveals shared values or it doesn’t. And as such, it will resonate and motivate people to want to interact with and purchase your brand or it won’t. This is in some ways a character issue more so than about deploying clever words and phrases.

Here’s the LitmusTest:

What do your best customers care about? And that question is not a request for evaluation of your features and benefits!

  • How do they live?
  • What do they struggle with?
  • What are their aspirations and dreams?
  • What are their concerns, wants and wishes?
  • How is your brand and business an enabler and partner in making their lives better and answering their desire for deeper meaning?

In our increasingly cynical society people have become less trusting and more skeptical. The Internet amplifies this by illuminating every misstep, mistake, scandal and recall to a replay-able loop-tape of evidence that businesses tend to look after their own self-interest. In response to this, consumers yearn to connect with brands that are built around a higher purpose, a shared value system and, frankly, a “soul” that transcends commerce.

Mining the Treasure Trove of Engagement

What an amazing opportunity for the more enlightened brand-minders who can blaze a trail to long-term connection with their users. How can we create marketing that people actually want and seek out rather than work to avoid? Having the courage to disconnect the hard-sell and instead, start talking with consumers about their interests and needs is the starting line for deeper connection.

  • For example: When the pet food company recognizes it’s not in the kibble business but in the pet care relationship and guidance business, you begin to see how the brand voice should evolve and how a bond can be nurtured. How exciting to be forging connections and conversations around the lifestyle people seek out with their four-legged family members. The specific quality of nutrition and ingredients doesn’t become unimportant. Rather, it’s what chin do you lead with – protein percentages or health and wellbeing? It’s the latter.

The great news here is the treasure trove of content engagement opportunities that can be created with an audience on the hunt for a steady diet of this material.

What is the Main Goal of Marketing?

If you simmer everything down to its core essence, the mission of marketing is trust creation. We have ample evidence that trust is an elusive commodity. It’s hard to secure it and even harder to keep it.

Trust development cannot just be a “strategy” in the marketing plan. It is an outcome of the very belief system and values we’ve been talking about here. There’s no ‘fake it till you make it’ in the trust curation department.

  • The heroic performances of SOE recruits was delivered through an out-sized commitment to their mission and higher purpose. Their calling serves as a stunning example of what’s possible when more is going on than just seeking transactions.

The irony here, is the less selfish aspects of caring about the health and wellbeing of customers and contributing to achieving their life goals, in fact, feeds the relationship that leads to transactions. Fearlessly leaning into the understanding that shared values precedes the creation of any type of affinity or loyalty.  The honest development of a real bond and relationship is where all of this begins.

One of the most exciting aspects of our work at Emergent is when a client looks for guidance in this very arena and we have the extraordinary privilege of helping define what that higher purpose looks like and how it can become an anchor for business and marketing strategy.

What’s the definition of a really big idea? It’s an idea that you can immediately, obviously see how it will impact the behavior of the organization from top to bottom. The beauty of landing on this understanding is the refreshing clarity it delivers to every decision around product, innovation, organization, people and very importantly, marketing that works.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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