Posts in storytelling

Brands serve as expert advisors on the consumer's journey

Brands are not products, they are stories well told

September 8th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Brands are not products, they are stories well told”

Here is how to tell them powerfully, persuasively

Brands and businesses are increasingly challenged by shifts and changes in consumer behavior that make it harder than ever to win in the marketplace based on perceived technical advantage, ingredient strengths or special formulation “sauce” as a reason to believe.

Moreover, brand content creation is being held captive by outmoded strategies built on feature and benefit selling that no longer holds sway with consumers who are in a position to ignore it. The path to authentic engagement is now found through hyper relevance to consumer interests, concerns and passions.

What remains most challenging about this authentic engagement insight is the conventional, outmoded marketing paradigm stands as a barrier to securing the needed relevance. The root trouble begins with how brand audiences are defined, in many instances painted with a broad brush that declares everyone is a prospect between a certain age range and household income level. This kind of thinking, which leads to “all things to all people” communications strategies, is a recipe for ignorable and wasted marketing spending.

We have seen this time and time again: when the consumer cohort the brand wishes to serve is narrowed considerably to the audience most likely to become enthusiastic fans and followers based on lifestyle considerations and priorities, the door is opened to almost magical opportunities for connection at an emotional level. Precisely where the brand needs to be by the way, for the very reason human beings are emotional and not rationally-driven creatures.

Success begins with a tighter, more focused and thus stronger go-to-market strategy

When we first were engaged by Sargento Foods, the brand behaved in the marketplace as a commodity cheese player in a commoditized category. Dairy aisle cheese share leader was the store brand and the primary national brand participants, Kraft and Sargento, were in constant motion to manage block cheese price costs to the gap between national brand and private label retail pricing. This was a recipe over time for static share conditions and fluctuating margin performance. For the consumer cheese was cheese was cheese unless provided with another relevant reason to prefer one brand over another.

The cycle could only be broken by first redefining the target audience. Rather than all things to all people, insight and segmentation research uncovered a cohort of the dairy aisle cheese-buying consumer who was all about cooking, using quality ingredients, inspired by chefs, consumers of food TV programming, bought cookbooks, loved being in the kitchen and cared about the food adventure they put on the dinner table.

What if Sargento worked to serve their interests and needs, focusing on the story that had to be created around culinary inspiration, love of food, taste, quality and cooking? This led to premiumization of the entire business, along with new products called Artisan Blends that combined their classic varieties with high quality cheese created by artisan producers, a new premium pricing strategy at retail and importantly, an entirely new story to tell.

It was a bold move. It was decisive. It was focused. It fed a platform of more compelling brand storytelling because it was first and foremost about this consumer segment’s love of food, passion in the kitchen and romance around taste and flavor. This is different than publishing a recipe for lasagna or the next round of ‘buy one get one.’

The outcome was compelling and transformational for the company. Today Sargento is a leader in their category and the move to snack products through the Balanced Breaks line has been a phenomenal success.

Proof that even a larger CPG brand can find a new reason to be and add deeper meaning by starting with a new picture of whom they wish to serve. Then, relentlessly driving on that insight to be hyper relevant to a consumer who is actually paying attention.

Do you know what the deeply engaged consumer values?

The road to engagement is paved with insight and understanding into the hearts, minds and lives of those you wish to serve.

Imagine the treasure trove of understanding the Clif Bar company amassed as they became an early mover in higher purpose brand building, aligning their business with outdoor adventure experiences and cycling. They understood this human because they lived and breathed the same air, participated in the same adventures, and remained steadfast in mirroring the ethos and beliefs of people who were driven to live this way, on a mountain trail on a mountain bike.

Whole Foods was an early player in the organic movement, and then successfully made a pivot to embrace culinary inspiration and the transition to higher quality, fresh food experiences. In doing so they invested heavily in content creation around creativity and inspiration in the kitchen, catering to the lifestyle aspirations of home cooks who found creativity at the stove to be a purposeful and fulfilling avocation.

  • They were a mirror of what people who care about food and love to cook are concerned about. Quality of ingredients is a big deal, and so the videos they created took customers to the farm to meet the grower of fresh strawberries. It was powerful for the very reason it helped these shoppers feel good and wise and confident and connected to the earth and what they purchased earlier that day.

Ironically, when Whole Foods began to dilute this investment and commitment to relevant culinary storytelling, the company balance sheet slid at the very time other banners were closing the gap on store experience, and opened vulnerability to acquisition. We all know what happened there.

Where’s the magic?

Here is your goal, and it’s a big one: content and storytelling that wins hearts and minds is always a story that is worth talking about. This is the incredible creative challenge best answered by master storytellers who know the construction of tales that draw people in, and the role of emotion, conflict, drama and resolution so vital to bringing people close.

This approach is more uncommon than you think. Yes, there’s a ton of brand created content published each and every day, and the vast majority of it is forgettable. Why does it miss the mark so frequently? The disconnect begins with the story. The path to real engagement isn’t paved with rational, logical, fact-based downloads on your product formulation superiority. It just isn’t emotionally moving and violates the number one rule of successful storytelling.

  • The consumer is always the hero of the story, not your product. The brand’s role is Yoda to the consumer’s Luke Skywalker – the wise and seasoned guide who helps the hero overcome their insecurities and lack of understanding, on their journey to mastery, bravery and success.

Rich material is found in what your users care about. This approach is unexpected and refreshing. It can become emotionally moving. It is, dare we say, how to be hyper relevant. You may be reading this and saying yeah but my business exists to sell our products or get people in the front door of our stores. To be sure, but how you get there has changed.

The greatest moment of transition to a new era of marketing success begins with embracing the counterintuitive understanding that your best move is to reflect user lifestyle needs and aspirations, feed their adventures, enable their passions and in doing so align your brand with who they want to become. This enlightened understanding of the authentic brand relationship leads to transformation in the consumer to brand relationship.

The remarkable story is built from WHY

People do not buy products, instead they buy the meaning that sits underneath. Today consumer purchases are largely symbolic gestures to signal to others what people value and what they think is important. This is the story they will tell others (their why). This matters to you because the holy grail of marketing is word of mouth and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is now amplified by social media channels that enable the sharing of consumer experiences.

The recipe for more compelling story telling is understanding:

  • Insight to how consumers see themselves
  • Knowing what they value
  • Their desire for deeper meaning and greater purpose in their lives
  • How they can acquire a feeling of belonging
  • Their goal to achieve a sense of distinction

We are doing business in the age of distinction

Category to category we continue to find in varying degrees a similar challenge: sameness.

Perhaps the best example of this is pet food, a business riding a wave of premiumization that has closely followed the rise of four-legged family members to furry “children” status. Of course, the one instrument to express the love and appreciation of the new-found value is in the quality of the food provided. Pet stores are chock full of emerging brands and some new larger players like Blue Buffalo who have successfully leveraged this ‘float all premium boats’ condition.

Having said that, the business is rife with similar, unremarkable messaging devoted to formulation superiority claims, the protein percentage wars, and assertions of improved nutrition. Walking the aisles in a pet food store is a living museum to sameness in presentation. So much so it is possible to lift language from one brand, apply it to the package of another and it still remains essentially true.

People are buying the story first and product second.

Imagine the pet brand that understands the importance of the relationship and bond between pet parent and pet, celebrating a pet-centric lifestyle – a phenomenon that is gaining momentum during the turmoil and emotional uncertainty of the pandemic. The ability of dogs and cats to favorably impact the health and wellness of their owners is a true thing. And a marketing opportunity waiting to happen!

Why is putting the wants and needs of consumers ahead of brand promotion so difficult to embrace?

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is coming to a realization that the herculean effort to build a fantastic product is now table stakes. Awesome product performance is a requirement and not necessarily the marketing secret sauce it may have been before. The secret sauce is now found in the hyper relevant, emotionally-satisfying story that reflects the aspirations of the consumer hero and their search for a better, happier life.

Tangible benefits for paying a premium price may be there, but the truth is the price and margin multiple are enabled by the story more than the ingredient or technology.

Here it is:

Great marketing builds a perceptual advantage for the very reason it completely respects how the customer feels when buying the premium solution.

If you need help thinking through how your brand and business goes to market in the era of consumer control, use this link and let’s start a conversation.

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

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

Cooking burnout is upon families right now

Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived

August 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, engagement, food experiences, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived”

Food and beverage brands can take the lead as coach and guide

Your brand’s best opportunity for real engagement occurs when consumer need and your expertise overlap at precisely the right moment. And that moment is now.  It’s here, we’re in it. You have an opportunity to become a trusted partner, a useful resource, at a time when families are running out of menu ideas and kitchen fatigue is setting in.

  • We’ll provide guidance on what to do, but first let’s take a look at what’s happening right now that creates this important opening for brands to build a more meaningful relationship with their users.

Consumer research continues to reinforce a significant shift, and likely permanent change, to an increase in at-home meal preparation occasions. The pandemic has prompted millions of families to get back into the kitchen full time. Working and schooling from home makes this a three meal a day duty. Some are new to this culinary endeavor and the learning curve is upon them. Cooking veterans consistently have to devote more time and attention to laboring over the stove.

According to a recent “COVID-19 Impact on Eating” report from The Hartman Group, 93% of dinner eating occasions are prepared and consumed at home.

  • Even more amazing is the surge in lunch; 81% of occasions are occurring at home.
  • Dinner menus involving ‘heavy’ preparation are at 31% of occasions, up 9 points from a year ago, while lunch occasions requiring moderate preparation have jumped to 33%, up 14 points from 2019.

In sum, despite the dramatic falloff of restaurant eating events, Americans are choosing to cook rather than outsource their meals. The research also reveals that 33% of all eating and drinking occasions are in service of health and wellbeing objectives – no surprise given the elevated importance of health and wellness. People are purposefully making an effort to protect their immune systems while the pandemic continues to ravage the nation.

Kitchen burnout is a reality and it has arrived

Food, beverage and food retail brands are afforded an extraordinary opportunity to become a useful coach and resource for home cooks. This comes at a time when they not only need inspiration and instruction but personal encouragement and emotional support as well.

Considering people are spending more time at home, menu creation has taken on a new significance and importance for families. Previous studies of home cook behaviors determined that most have a repertoire of roughly 10 dishes they know well and will continue to keep in rotation. However, after months and months of repeat visits, menu weariness sets in as home chefs run out of ways to freshen their tried and true dishes.

Reinforcing the permanent home cooking shift is health and wellness aspirations

Alongside this cooking-from-necessity condition is a growing appreciation that home cooked meals are generally:

  • Healthier, more nutritious
  • Portion controlled
  • Completely customized
  • Convenient to scheduling
  • Safer
  • And can be functionally curated to support health and wellness objectives

Being relevant to consumers is the precursor to creating authentic engagement opportunities with them. What consumers are experiencing now puts your brand in an enviable position to be useful and helpful at a moment of real need.

“During this worrisome time many have re-discovered latent cooking expertise and more than a few have developed newfound culinary skills, but also most are feeling a bit weary and are reporting varying degrees of family meal fatigue. Our meal preparation muscles are tired, tested and stretched. Still we know the nutritional and family functioning benefits are out there awaiting us,” wrote David Fikes in a recent The Food Industry Association report ahead of their annual National Family Meals Month promotion in September.

In other words, now, when we’re tired, we most need the encouraging words of an inspiring trainer urging us to push beyond the fatigue, work through the discomfort and get reenergized about family meals, if we wish to reap the solid benefits they hold for us in terms of health, happiness and well-being,” he said.

Perfect moment for the most effective brand content strategy

Storytelling is best served when proper roles are recognized and respected. Consumers want and need to be the heroes of their own life journeys. The brand’s optimal function in this scenario is as coach and guide. That’s precisely what is required here. Your ability to step in with emotional support, inspirational culinary ideas and guidance on preparation skills and innovative cooking techniques will help consumers save time and avoid mistakes.

  • Your goal is to make the home chef more successful and comfortable in their kitchen-centric calling.

How to optimize this moment for connection and relationship building

Empathetic voice

Now is the time to put the brand ‘in league’ with the consumer by acknowledging the frustrations and burnout they may be feeling after months of constant meal preparation. It gets tough after the entire family is around the dining room table nearly seven days a week for months with no end in sight.

Food is an emotional category

Food consumption is enjoyable, social, indulgent, and can be transformational. This isn’t just about skills and cooking temperatures, it’s also about the table, experimentation, creativity and taste experiences.

Keep it simple

People literally run away from complexity and communication that taxes their brains. People are hardwired to avoid burning mental calories, so ideas and menus need to be presented simply, clearly with an eye towards simplifying what people must tackle in the kitchen.

Video and webinar are the right mediums

Harness the incredible capability of video to marry instructional or emotive words with pictures to amp the entertainment value. This will help people better understand through visual demonstration what they should be doing to bring great food to life.

Credible experts can help

Chef voices can elevate the conversation and add viewer interest to what you produce. As we said earlier, people now see food as a direct channel to improving their own health and wellbeing. Outside experts in nutrition and wellness add more authority to what your presenting. People are more likely to respect credentialed third-parties than in-house voices.

Social proof and trust creation

Consumers love to hear from other consumers. Employ your social channels to engage the community in sharing their own culinary content, recipes and ideas. People are far more likely to engage their peers before they’ll accept the assertions and claims brands make.

Transparency

Consider virtual farm visits with your suppliers and an opportunity to hear the personal stories of the families who create the ingredients you use. This serves as a transparency mechanism where customers get to see first-hand how your ingredients are sourced and then how your recipes are created.

Don’t wait

Now is the time to create a content calendar and begin operating in service of your customers during their time of need. With work-at-home looking like an ongoing condition and schooling- from-home likely to occur for many young people in the fall, kitchen and menu burnout isn’t going away any time soon.

This is a time for experimentation and openness to trying new flavors and cuisines. With the tried and true dishes most home cooks repeat losing their luster, people are gravitating to new experiences. In light of this condition, they need the guidance and expertise you can provide to bring new food ideas to the table.

Need help creating and building a strong culinary content calendar and fresh creative assets optimally messaged to engage home cooks in the right way? We can help! Let’s discuss your needs in greater detail.

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

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

Avoid consumer disconnects

How to meet your consumer face-to-face, heart-to-heart

July 14th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight, Navigation, Social community, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “How to meet your consumer face-to-face, heart-to-heart”

Defining the new path to brand relevance and attraction

You can’t afford marketing that fails to connect. Too often brands inadvertently embed their communication with disconnects because the story is constructed upside down. It’s rowing against the current of behavioral science that informs us about what draws people in, or conversely, repels them.

Every food, beverage and lifestyle marketer, every day, needs their outreach activity to engage and endear consumers to their respective brand. We know the ultimate goal for any business is to get and keep a customer, so strategic communication is job one. With consumers in full control to accept or bypass brand messaging intended for their eyes and ears, engagement remains elusive and, thus, is more precious to your business than gold.

What is the secret to message resonance?

  • What are the rules governing how relationships and ultimately brand advocacy are created? We will answer these key business-building questions soon in this story. First, we need to examine the failure to engage because too many brands are missing the mark and don’t realize it.

Head-over-heart fact-based storytelling is a fast track to “strike three, you’re out!”

Human beings have a remarkable ability to embrace the experiences and stories of their contemporaries. People care about other people, more so than ‘caring’ about a specific product feature. Yet brands and businesses are too often pre-occupied with telling their story of better technology and related formula benefits, believing this is the information that will attract an audience and build sales.

To understand this, we should explore what the brand’s role is in users’ lives. Every day of every week of every year in the consumer’s life, people operate as the heroes of their own life story. Unfortunately, the vast majority of brand communication places the product at the center of the story arc, competing with consumers for the coveted hero role. The consumer recognizes their rightful role in the story has been hijacked by the brand, and they move on trying to find a respectful guide who will help them on their path to a better and more fulfilling life.

  • Yes, the brand’s role is expert guide and coach. The brand relationship must be built on a foundation of reciprocity, activated by the brand’s ability to contribute to the users’ efforts to overcome obstacles and achieve goals on their journey.

Analytical arguments of “25% faster” or “15% more protein” do not, cannot, form the basis of engaging brand storytelling. To draw consumers close, emotion is required, and relevance, based on a holistic understanding of the customer’s aspirations, desires, concerns and needs, is necessary.

Emotion captures attention

Awhile back we represented the leading pet food brand in the raw food category. They made high quality kibble and wet foods but the raw segment of their product line was seen as the most nutritionally desirable. As we spent time getting closer to their best raw food users, we uncovered amazing stories of transformation and change for pets who had health issues and behavioral challenges. Once introduced to the nutritional density of a raw food diet, these pets’ lives were dramatically altered for the better.

We created video vignettes of these testimonials, featuring non-scripted interviews and a short documentary-style approach to tell their transformation stories. The tears literally flowed as pet parents described the difficulties their furry family members faced, and what happened when a dietary change helped reverse health problems and adjusted the trajectory of their pet’s life.

  • No amount of communication about quality food ingredients, proprietary recipes, or high protein levels would come within a country mile of creating a more compelling and powerful proposition for this brand.

Further evidence of this same phenomenon came to life in a different way years earlier when I led the Friskies pet food account while at Ogilvy & Mather in Los Angeles. We created a novel campaign aptly titled: the Search for the Friskiest Cat in America. Using a variety of integrated communications and package graphic tools, we moved the news to cat owners about the opportunity for their feline to win $10,000, a trip to Hollywood for a celebrity judged final event and a coveted place on the cover of the annual Friskies cat calendar.

The idea caught fire. Consumer entries showcased oil paintings of a frisky moment, videos, poems, even screen plays. The stories shared by people about the animals they loved were nothing short of amazing; emotion-packed, authentic, fun and entertaining. By the way, the brand went to the number one category share position for the first time in 20 years.

What did we learn? We tapped a vein of emotional relevance as thousands and thousands of people shared their stories of wacky cat behavior and why their pet deserved the “friskiest” accolade. We also learned how incredibly important these bonds and relationships were to people, as seen by the lengths people would go to demonstrate it.

The tragic human experience writ large

Perhaps the most powerful story we’ve ever encountered came from a mother who had lost her teenage daughter to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in their home. It served as powerful motivation to families to protect themselves and their loved ones from this invisible and dangerous household hazard. No amount of logical, fact-based communication about the CO threat and its presence in the home would come anywhere near the heart-breaking loss this family experienced. They felt a calling to share their story when they understood what a pervasive problem it is in homes and that 90% of American families weren’t aware of it.

The family championed our client’s product, the world’s first household CO detector, as the instrument to help other families avoid their fate. Human beings work very hard to prevent loss or risk of injury when they know what the threat looks like and what the outcomes can be at a human level. It was the mother’s personal story, grieving for the accidental loss of her daughter that made it real and credible. Her call to action: “If there had been a carbon monoxide alarm in our home, this could have been avoided. Don’t say it won’t happen to you.” People listened and thousands of lives were saved as a result.

The heroes of these stories are people and their experiences. Not recipes, or formulations or ingredient wizardry. In each instance the brand was a guide or coach to help the consumer along their path. This is what draws people closer.

Emotional resonance comes in different flavors

  • Home cooks who are spurred by creativity and food adventure experiences in the kitchen or backyard.
  • Amateur athletes and fitness buffs who search for inspiration and guidance on their quest for improvement and self-fulfillment.
  • People whose health and wellbeing are transformed by changes to their lifestyle and mental attitude through improved eating/drinking and exercise regimens.
  • Outdoor adventure enthusiasts who are drawn to the dramatic stories of shared lifestyle experiences from people their mountaintop passions.
  • The growing chorus of people whose higher purpose and mission is to improve the world around them, addressing racism, hunger, poverty, social injustice and climate change.
  • Every product category, viewed through the right strategic lens, can secure this sweet spot of emotional relevance.

It may seem counterintuitive to focus on the consumer’s journey and need more so than the product technology. However, it is a proportional measurement of how fully a brand becomes immersed in this deeper meaning and then operates as a partner to improve the consumer’s life, that impacts the ability to create and sustain an authentic relationship.

Your four-step plan to brand engagement and growth:

  1. Make the research and study of your consumer’s lifestyle, ambitions, worries, interests and experiences a top priority. To know them is to love them.
  2. Build a strategic platform around your company’s higher purpose and mission that bears relevance to what consumer’s care most about. Your brand’s goal is to improve their lives.
  3. Construct messaging, content and invite users to participate with their own stories that bring your purpose and mission to life. People want to be part of something that’s greater than themselves.
  4. Listen and improve. The more you know about them and their needs, the more powerful this dynamic relationship becomes.

Emergent has created a proprietary process called Brand Sustainability Analysis to help clients determine or refine their unique higher purpose and true north. If it’s time for a fresh perspective and help on defining your path to sustainable growth, click here to start a conversation.

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

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

It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING

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

The five essential guideposts to successful brand communication

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

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

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

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

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

Brands must become trusted sources and resources

The relationship brands build with consumers must evolve.

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

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

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

Five guideposts to effective brand communication

  1. Relevance

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

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

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

  1. Social influence

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

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

  1. Reciprocity

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

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

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

  1. Emotional intelligence

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

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

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

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

  1. Authenticity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Channels Deliver a Rapt Audience

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

A remarkable pandemic-authored condition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequency and media choice = positive outcome

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

Your optimal social strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social proof and community

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

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

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

Pandemic specific social content guidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Create Growth When the Future is Uncertain

April 21st, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, CMO, Content Marketing, Growth, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 1 comment on “How to Create Growth When the Future is Uncertain”

Keys to address now – preventing paralysis while accelerating engagement

Businesses and brands don’t like uncertainty. The pandemic has delivered a heaping pile of vagueness on what the future looks like. However, a modest number of companies will avoid the creeping advance of paralysis and will position themselves for industry-leading growth when the pandemic begins to subside. Here’s how to recognize the presence of business-defeating thinking and strategies, while making the right investments that will turn the current batch of potential business lemons into lemonade.

“Fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.

This is a challenging time for nearly every business in food, beverage and lifestyle categories. Competing theories exist on where business will go in the next six months, compounded by conflicting forecasts of what business results will look like and what the future holds generally.

In the face of uncertainty many organizations are sorely tempted to retreat, to pause, to pursue a defensive rather than offensive style strategy. The theory at work is to wait out the storm before attempting to map a more progressive future. That said, some studies suggest the defensive approach can infect the business in the wrong way, and inadvertently set a course for handing over leadership to other brands that determined they would not succumb to a holding pattern during these uncertain times.

What’s really happening here anyway?

Fear begins to replace optimism and some businesses subsequently stop working to create a better reality. Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, poignantly describes the condition: uncertainty breeds fear. “Fear is programmed by evolution to be hyper-vigilant and insanely over-protective,” she reports. Fear believes that any uncertain outcome is already foretold to end in failure and disappointment. Fear’s job is to induce in varying degrees, a form of panic whenever an organization is about to embark on a path that is less than certain.

Historical evidence points to the right path

Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2010 published a comprehensive report following the Great Recession of 2008/09, to help diagnose what conditions contribute to growth and what strategies set an organization up for unsatisfactory outcomes. The study looked backward at previous recessions and found common ground on approaches that either contributed to losing momentum or acquiring it.

Some organizations look at uncertainty and focus on what could be described as a ‘loss minimizing’ or siege mentality that can put the business into survival mode. Prevention strategies are founded mostly on cost cutting. However, the data shows firms that cut costs faster and deeper than rivals don’t necessarily flourish.

In fact, the HBR report revealed those engaged in loss minimizing have the ‘lowest probability’ of pulling ahead of the competition as economic conditions turn around. The prevention mindset is founded primarily on safety, security, avoiding losses and minimizing risks. This defensive approach also tends to trigger a form of pessimism internally that spreads like wildfire as strict controls and rumors of impending cuts put people in the organization into survival-style behaviors.

  • HBR’s study of 4,700 companies found that 56% of prevention-oriented businesses cut their head count, while only 23% of progressive companies laid off staff and in far fewer numbers. This begs the question, what is a progressive company?

A progressive approach is essentially a balanced strategy that focuses cost controls primarily on identifying operational efficiencies (rather than head count), combined with continued investments in marketing and innovation. The report found that 37% of organizations taking this more aggressive approach were more likely to emerge as leaders later.

For executives working to build the optimal plan it’s important to recognize the barriers to progressive thinking. This can include a mélange of challenges if failure isn’t respected in the organization as the ultimate teaching and learning moment. Additionally, when personal self-worth can’t abide any form of failure, the uncertain conditions often leads to retreat.

Why is marketing investment so important?

Gordon Leavitt, the former Dean of Marketing at Harvard Business School wrote a book called The Marketing Imagination, a profound and enlightened view of marketing’s role in how an organization wins in the marketplace. In it he states, “the purpose of business is to get and keep a customer, therefore every department, every executive, every decision is in fact tied to marketing.” Leavitt believed that everyone is involved in marketing whether their job description says so or not. For the very reason that marketing is not a department, it is the organization’s collective behavior to get and keep the customer.

Granted much has changed since he wrote the book and “purpose” is now a much deeper construct than just commerce. However, his point remains essential in looking at why investments here matter even in the presence of uncertainty. Customer-focused thinking and behaviors prove over and over as a viable path to growth in the midst of adversity.

Ideas and inspiration are required to navigate uncertainty

Ultimately it is ideas that will power growth, especially in the face of doubt. What can get in the way of inspiration that informs great ideas? Most often it is drama, anxiety, distractions, insecurities and fear that can draw the horns inward. These characteristics, corporate or individual, are not receptive to inspiration.

In fact, ideas can be banished with a single word: NO.  In some instances, businesses are culturally organized to say no, no, no and no.

Instead businesses should focus on the essential principles that support creativity including:

Courage

Enchantment

Permission

Persistence

Trust

What are the characteristics needed to promote an atmosphere that invites inspiration, creativity and ideas? Executive leadership that is diligently focused on the customer and their journey, and is driven by attitudes founded on faith, belief, courage and devotion to respecting and caring for the health, wellbeing and welfare of the brand’s users.

It is the ultimate expression of putting their needs at the top of the priority ladder and working backwards from there to identify ways to bring that commitment to life. It is a form of fearlessness that manifests in rallying the organization’s focus to the customer rather than myopic devotion to self-preservation.

When fear is eliminated there is an opportunity to cooperate fully, joyfully and humbly with inspiration, entering into a contract of sorts with it that “we are required to fulfill,” says Gilbert.

Purposeful marketing

Translation of ideas and inspiration into world-class marketing solutions is best seen in the creation of deeper meaning and higher purpose in the brand voice.

According to Kantar Research, successful brand marketing focused on building higher purpose for the business, exhibits three principles:

  1. The organization has an established history supporting a purposeful positioning.
  2. The brand partners with credible third parties who are also passionate about that positioning.
  3. The company is committed to providing tangible solutions that help reassure and guide consumers to a better future.

It should be noted here that the ultimate expression of higher purpose is in the storytelling conducted by brands, their customers and stakeholders. Our brains rely on stories to make sense of the world around us. Yet storytelling has been largely missing from marketing for the last 30 years, as businesses have focused primarily on conveying product features and benefits.

A bright future ahead

Now is the time for an improved story based on a higher purpose delivered fearlessly, creatively by a brand devoted entirely to its customers’ welfare. Erasing self-doubt and self-protection behaviors, the brand can get on the path to future leadership, while successfully navigating the challenge of today’s uncertainty.

Brands that invest now will reap the benefits later in improved strength and growth in their respective categories.

Let us know your questions and challenges, we’re happy to help build your strategic plan, create messaging and content to tell your story.

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

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

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