Posts in Transformation

Building Trust in the Midst of Fear

March 15th, 2020 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Pet food, Restaurant trends, Social community, Social media, Transformation 1 comment on “Building Trust in the Midst of Fear”

Efforts to create, innovate and communicate will inform your brand’s future

You’ve undoubtedly run across the ‘dystopian future’ movie storyline, usually brought on by some cataclysmic disaster with intrepid or hysterical survivors running into a grocery store, only to be greeted by empty shelves while wading through torn packaging detritus everywhere. I had this movie-like experience only last night at the Mariano’s supermarket nearby. I witnessed the fear-driven cart Olympics mad dash as aisle after aisle of products were emptied save a lone, bruised apple and a dented, torn box of cereal left dangling precariously on an otherwise barren shelf.

Uncertainty and media drama are partners in the perceptual stew that pushes people into behaviors normally reserved for cinematic storytelling. Fear of the unknown grips as the house now achieves safe haven sanctuary status and toilet paper becomes one of the most elusive, rare and sought-after commodities in the nation.

Keep Calm and Carry On

In 1940 at the height of the Blitzkrieg (The Blitz) that showered Great Britain with bombs in the night, dropped indiscriminately on London neighborhoods, the government released its now famous poster Keep Calm and Carry On. This statement became a dominant theme embraced by incredibly brave British citizens in the face of unrelenting catastrophe and sharpened their resolve to weather the life-threatening storm.

Right now, today, you have an opportunity to help your customers Keep Calm and discover the opportunities presented by a large dose of enforced family time and homebound adventures and experiences. Creative, innovative thinking and generous outreach is the required skillset.

Lemonade from lemons

The foodservice industry is taking it on the chin. In Seattle, the hardest hit city in the nation from COVID-19, business has virtually disappeared from restaurants as people remain home. Arguably Seattle’s finest dining establishment, Canlis, an iconic example of culinary quality that has led the dining scene there for decades, elected to close.

Chef-owner Tom Douglas told Restaurant Business magazine revenue was off by 90%, which might as well be 100%. Nonetheless, Douglas’ response was instructive to us all. He announced the opening of three concepts based out of Canlis kitchens that will serve the takeout, drive through and home delivery market segments. The Bagel Shed will offer breakfast options; Drive on Thru will provide lunchtime burgers, veggie melts and salad; Family Meal will offer a rotating menu of dinner entrees and a bottle of wine delivered to your door. A creative deployment of solutions and assets that helps keep the team employed while answering the opportunity for off-premise consumption business.

Salve for Uncertainty

Communication, and lots of it, is required in these unprecedented times. Your motivation is not only to inform users of what your business is doing to keep the flow of goods and services they need safely in motion, but also to express care and concern for their health, wellbeing and happiness.

The schools my daughters attend are now closed. My youngest is a dancer, and her classes and performances have been cancelled. My oldest is an ice skater and the rink is shut and practices stopped. What we have going is each other, our wonderful dogs, more time together and adventurous spirits.

How can your brand operate as coach and guide for family activities, more hands-on experiences with the pets, and a renewed focus on home-prepared meals? With no sports, no concerts, no large group events of any kind, the marketplace may well be listening and consumers more open to engagement than ever before. There are certainly wayyy fewer distractions competing for precious attention.

Your brand’s ability to operate as an enabler and resource is important in this environment. Social communities can become outlets of shared experience. In Chicago, the Nextdoor online community bulletin board is on fire as people share thoughts, ideas and concerns on the changes occurring before us. One of the most active conversations is around the status of fresh food supplies in local supermarkets and guidance on who has what.

People want to share and engage with each other

We have arrived at a new era where businesses increasingly understand they are about more than manufacturing, retailing and commerce. Companies have discovered their growing role in authoring the greater good. This self-discovery opens the door to building a more human and approachable brand that understands relationships with users are increasingly like real, human friendships and the natural reciprocity that exists in that personal dynamic.

When brands talk, walk and behave in a more human and relate-able manner, they become more resonant and trustworthy. You have been handed an extraordinary opportunity to help people in the midst of a trying storm. Empathy is a great characteristic and will serve you well as people embrace your voice of reason and support.

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

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

Marketing Strategy: Different Beats Best

March 11th, 2020 Posted by brand strategy, change, CMO, Growth, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Transformation 0 comments on “Marketing Strategy: Different Beats Best”

Category creation is the path to sustainable growth

Emergent has extolled the virtue of category creation as a path to sustainable growth for some time. In essence, we routinely look for ways to dial a client’s brand positioning to the right or left far enough that a new category of one is created.

For the most part we find that food, beverage and lifestyle brands, however, prefer to focus on being better than the competition, or even the best – which is better attired in a nice new suit.

Better is an alluring idea. Brands almost naturally feel drawn to say faster, cheaper, easier, more of this and less of that.

The problem with better is it casts the business in a comparison-anchored fight that never goes away. It gives strength to the competition by keeping them in the conversation and requires routine return visits to make sure the specs are always optimal. In fact, the specs become the defining narrative of the business, a more analytical style of communication that lacks emotional resonance.

A form of polite mudslinging goes on continually as the better or best mantra is applied and justified through ranking of achievements and advantages. Marketers may think that users care most about better, but that’s only because they haven’t given them something different to believe in. At least not yet. 

Are brands merely a list of features and benefits?

  • The primary difference between being brand led versus sales driven begins with recognizing that a strong brand always goes to market with a point of view. The best brands have an opinion that is expressed early and often, and a vision of what the future looks like. Strong brands offer a way forward for their users and help them understand what before and after looks like.

Your brand is ultimately a belief system. In today’s redefined world now founded on substance and authenticity rather than gloss and prestige, belief is the new benefit.

Another way to look at this is the power and importance of different. Superior will lose out to different every time. Emergent’s goal as expert guide is to help marketers define what different looks like and then map how to own it.

Balance sheet challenges aside, the Casper mattress category creation story isn’t really founded on offering a better mattress. They’ve been successful by marketing a point of view and beliefs around better sleep. Their principles and values led to creating a new category and channel for mattress sales that overcame the inability to trial (lay down on) a mattress before purchase.

Your strategic thinking time is best invested looking for powerful ways to be different rather than better or best. Here are four examples of how different can be brought to life.

  1. Create a new category everyone else is blind to

You can choose to play ball outside with competitors, watching their moves and looking for advantages in formulation or superiority in other areas of the category value proposition that people expect. Or you can create a new playing field that’s your very own.

Legacy beauty brands have forever looked at their role as something magical you apply to achieve their definition of beauty. It is created on the surface, on the outside of the user. New more purposeful emerging brands see it differently. They believe beauty comes from inside and operates with a wider lens around wellness. Beauty is achieved through respect for and balance of the mind, body and spirit. This is rich territory to carve a new voice, to change the value proposition and to be different.

Different is easier to remember and gets traction more quickly than better, which always requires some brain taxing analysis to do the math of superiority.

  1. Create a lifestyle brand

Lifestyle brands recognize the role they can play as enablers of consumer passions, and their ability to inspire users to a better quality of life. Lifestyle brands literally insert themselves into important life moments for consumers. These are life events and experiences that mirror the brand’s guiding beliefs and reason for being, which is nearly always attached to a deeper meaning than just the product itself.

Yeti is a super-premium cooler brand that is heavily invested in lifestyle positioning.  The brand is a study in active participation and storytelling around life moments that matter. Its methodology has been expressed on more than one occasion as celebrating “freedom of the human soul in nature.”

Sure, they could devote their marketing energy to technical descriptions and specmanship around the product design. Instead their focus is on the special moments of human relationship bonding on a river at dawn while fly fishing. Is this a prestige sale? $350 or more for a cooler is a leap in price point. No. It is a cult favorite among construction workers because the brand identifies so fully with a life worth living.

  1. Change focus and the conversation

Many brands ill-advisedly devote their marketing plans and tools to revealing themselves to the customer. When you talk continuously about your accolades and advantages, you are expressing who and what you are.

However, brand led businesses on the other hand show their difference by expressing who the customer is and can be. The nuance is showing them how your brand beliefs will change them and improve their lives.

When you talk about yourself, you position the brand as the hero of the story you’re telling. That is upside down and puts the brand in competition with the consumer for the hero role. Users should be the hero of all brand storytelling, with the brand positioned as expert guide, there to help them on the journey and solve problems.

Hotel companies are famous for talking about themselves, the facilities and amenities. The similarity between hotel web sites is striking, as if there were one design firm knocking them off along a cookie-cutter pattern of feature lists. The game to settle who is better or best is played against a backdrop of great-looking pools, spas and culinary offerings.

Then along comes Airbnb. This brand rose above the fray by being different in every way. Here Airbnb inspires a dramatically different picture of what travel is. While hotel companies try to beat the competition with amenities, spacious rooms and gardens, Airbnb turned the industry inside out by being different.

The magic lies in how you travel and what you experience when you’re there. It’s a decidedly human story that builds on the personal adventure you create rather than property specs.

  1. Change the reality

Different can come to life when a brand reframes the long-accepted reality and creates the ‘Oh my God we’ve been doing it wrong all this time’ moment.

Step One Foods in Minneapolis is an early player on this front, pioneering a new category entitled Food-as-Medicine. (Disclosure: Emergent has done some project work with this company). Step One was started by a Cardiologist, Dr. Elizbeth Klodas, who hails from a long line of family bakers.

Dr. Klodas empathetically aligned herself with patients suffering from high cholesterol and the prospect of future heart disease. Dr. Klodas wanted to find a way to improve and change her patients’ lives, not just medicate. Cholesterol lowering drugs, by the way, are the most prescribed medications in America. As is always the case, drug therapies come with side-effects which can be debilitating in their own right.

Dr. Klodas looked at the linkage between food, diet and disease and embarked on a journey to create a food-based solution. Remarkably, she found an effective recipe using real food ingredients in proper proportions to create a line of packaged foods including bars, smoothie mix, oatmeal cereal and other assorted products.

Step One became the first packaged foods company to participate in a double-blind clinical trial of the products, that effectively proved consuming the foods (no other changes to lifestyle required) met or exceeded the cholesterol lowering outcomes achieved by drug therapies, but without the side effects.

Step One has created an ‘OMG we’ve been doing it wrong moment,’ reframing what we know and understand about the role that food can play in addressing disease.

  1. Different is a reframing reality. It is a paradigm shift and as such it flies against the natural tendency to fall into better, best or both.
  2. Different and its cousin new category creation, are pathways to sustainable growth that end the connection to competitive comparison while achieving true separation and distinction.

The question marketers should be asking: can I help make people care about something different that what they prioritize now? The answer is yes, this can be done. Owning different will change the conversation with consumers and usher in an era of brand leadership.

Can we help you identify your path to brand-led strength?  Let’s talk.

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.

Emerging Trend: The Personalization of Food

February 27th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Culinary lifestyle, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Transformation 0 comments on “Emerging Trend: The Personalization of Food”

Creating hyper-relevant products for the marketplace of one

Have you noticed over the last 20 years palates have become more sophisticated? Quality expectations around menus, ingredients and preparations have grown alongside the rising popularity of celebrity chefs. Elevated cooking is everywhere. A genuinely satisfying culinary experience can now be had at the neighborhood gastro-pub. Great food experience is just an arm’s reach away. This is evidence of a food culture shift.

Equally so, food literacy has jumped with the treasure trove of content available online that satisfies the consumer’s thirst to know more about the food they put in their bodies. This concern got traction when people generally connected the dots between the quality of the food they consume and the quality of their lives. People now understand that diet influences the foundation of health and wellness, and sub-optimal nutrition may contribute to the onset of disease. More culture driven transformation.

An outcome of being in constant control is the marketplace of one

While the importance of food-to-lifestyle goals climb, the consumer’s ability to control every aspect of brand engagement, curation of the information and media they ingest has changed their expectations and their worldview. Culturally, people no longer buy the idea of one size fits all, and this applies equally to dietary sensibilities and food regimens.

The North American CPG food business is evolving towards a market of one. It hasn’t fully arrived yet, but the signs are emerging around a desire for more personalized and customized food and beverage solutions. A recent report on this topic by The Hartman Group cites the growing interest in individualized and hyper-relevant products and food experiences.

This step into personalized nutrition is already being reflected in dietary preferences, shopping behaviors, food preparation skills and techniques and most of all, consumption. What’s coming soon is the marriage of personalization and customization with health and wellness to redefine the future of the food and beverage business.

Factors influencing the personalization trend can be seen in the consumer’s growing interest in biomarkers. When people start to pay attention to DNA kits and reports, blood glucose levels and microbiomes, it is an outgrowth of the desire to truly understand how to optimally fuel oneself. We are all unique and our lives impacted by how we are assembled from the moment we arrive on earth.

  • By the way, this emerging trend in human food will crossover to pet food at some point because the same rules apply.

Be-spoke menus and meals

People want to tailor the food they eat to their needs and preferences. I like the ordering line at Chipotle for that very reason. I can get the burrito exactly how I want it. What’s going on there is a sense of control that sits at the foundation of its appeal. We ask the question: how can food and beverage businesses answer the desire for greater dietary control?

One way to look at this is to follow the thread of dietary concerns that are gaining momentum.

Here are some leading-edge areas ripe for innovation and fresh perspective:

  • Stress, anxiety and sleeplessness
  • Neuro health
  • Aging and beauty
  • Microbiome (gut health and inflammation)
  • Independence and mobility
  • Food as medicine

These emerging concerns sit alongside the long-standing stalwarts of weight management, energy boost and clean eating, and are now demanding more attention in the aisles at your local supermarket.

Note that all of these emerging nutrition considerations bear witness to the intersection of food as a primary driver of health and wellness. Nutrient density sits at the front door of defining, for the consumer, what is indeed healthy food or drink. From a marketing viewpoint, it’s important to mention here that relevant health & wellness markers such as fresher, less processed, locally and sustainably sourced, simple recipes/labels, real food ingredients and higher quality, matter because of what they represent to a novice or less trusting base of potential purchasers.

Not far away is the growing list of avoidances that accompany the consumer’s food literacy advances. Essential especially for legacy CPG brands to be aware of these concerns and to optimize their formulations to steer clear of problem areas like GMOs, hormones, antibiotics and preservatives.

What can be emphasized here is a prevailing consumer desire to accumulate positive nutrients, in an effort to improve and better manage health and wellbeing. When beef jerky becomes a positive contributor to wellbeing with cleaner labels and vastly improved recipes, you know goodness can be created just about anywhere. Check out Prevail Jerky.

Emergence of new food and beverage is symptomatic of cultural shift

With the barriers to entry for new food and beverage concepts near zero, the marketplace is awash in improved ideas touting higher quality ingredients and simple labels to legacy categories . It is a reflection of consumer interest in better-for-you.

So, too, will the desire for more customized solutions gain momentum as it mirrors the consumer’s view that who they are, what they want and their perceived unique needs and preferences.

  • Answering this call will be the next great revolution in food as businesses work to create more options that answer the desire for hyper relevance.

Functional shopping at the store

Increasingly people are shopping for attributes – looking for solutions to the dietary challenges they face. Food retail today doesn’t offer much help in this context. Online searches for energy solutions doesn’t necessarily serve up a relevant menu of alternatives.

Personalization and customization reflect a growing interest in finding answers. Label Insight has landed on this and is working to provide digital platform solutions that enable food retail shoppers to search by attribute, especially important when faced with a store environment of thousands of SKUs. What’s in the health and wellness aisle when options in this area become more pervasive across the entire store?

The consumer’s move towards hyper relevant food is a huge consideration for brands related to what’s in the wings for product improvements and formulations. You can’t make these assessments from a distance. Consumer insight research, more than ever, is required to best determine the pace of this evolution and how the consumer considers this from a product attribute and shopping perspective.

Consumer-centricity is the path to your success

  • The consumer has to be at the center of strategic planning
  • Assessments of how consumers see personalization requires getting close-in on their needs
  • Retailers should then support how consumers want to shop for foods with various health & wellness attributes
  • Retail shopping experience matters more than ever, and these insights can help create that roadmap

Insight and Emergent

Your goal is to build relevancy in an era of constant and rapid change, where cultural shifts are redefining the business based on the consumer’s desire for personalized food solutions.

We help clients with this form of discovery research, and then help build strategic plans to translate insight into an innovation and marketing communications game plan.

Want to know more? Let’s talk.

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

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

Taking Truth to the Bank

January 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Taking Truth to the Bank”

Transforming business outcomes through transparency

How can we make marketing most effective?

Here’s a story about how an investment in transparency can make a big difference in consumer engagement and business outcomes.

Imagine a pet parent in a pet store looking for the right food to buy for their beloved dog or cat. Unlike human food where you can see if the steak is fresh and well-marbled or squeeze the tomato to determine if it’s ripe, pet food presents a bag of curious brown nuggets where the label becomes the lesson. Yet how do people truly know what’s inside the bag after trying to decipher the label jargon? Facts are you don’t. It’s a leap of faith.

Simply stated, consumers have questions burning inside of them. If we don’t answer them a disconnect occurs.

Why? The world we now live in is a skeptical place. People require trust and belief about the brands they care about but find it hard to secure when confronted almost daily in the media with half-truths, omissions, deceit and integrity challenges.

In this uncertain environment marketers want their messages to be seen, heard and acted upon. However, consumers routinely tune out and ignore many of those investments, in part because the messaging fails to connect in a meaningful and credible way. A dilemma we’re about to solve through applying deeper meaning…

Nowhere can we see this credibility challenge in greater relief than the pet food industry, a super high involvement category for pet parents, where the product form provides no visual cue about what’s inside or proof of ingredient quality. Yes, the label lists ingredient categories, but nothing to truly verify if the meat, for example, was fresh or raw and where it came from rather than the more common powdered (lower grade) version.

You already know that pets are revered, doted over family members. The most direct way to express the love we have for our furry companions is to provide the very best nutrition we can afford, given food is connected to pet health, wellness and happiness. People genuinely care about pet food, so how can we reward this significant level of interest and concern about diet quality? Please note, this concern is just as valid in human food categories.

Ironically, the vast majority of marketing communication in the pet food business suffers with sameness. From brand to brand, claims are made about percentages of high protein and meat use because dogs and cats are carnivores and their ‘ancestral diet’ leans heavily on prodigious amounts of these ingredients. It remains nonetheless an assertion, requiring trust that the brown nugget is made from the claimed fresh chicken. Incidentally sameness is a blur and lacks distinctiveness fueled with memorability, essential for marketing effectiveness.

Being overtly clever these days doesn’t really help because consumers work to avoid anything that walks or talks like shameless self-promotion.

Champion Petfoods and the industry’s first move to authentic transparency

Champion, in fact, makes some of the highest quality pet food in the business in their ORIJEN and ACANA brands. Yet this remains a claim, requiring said leap of faith for acceptance.

Trust is essential these days to business growth. But periodic recalls and product liability litigation du jour in the pet food business can dilute confidence. For the most part, pet owners feed their pets and “hope” all is well because the bowl is emptied, and Fido wags his tail.

Emergent and Champion wanted to leap over the category-wide skepticism and find a better path to consumer connection based on the pet parents’ keen interests. Champion has long-standing partnerships with regional farms, ranches and fisheries to supply their two kitchens in Alberta, Canada and Auburn, Kentucky. This essential truth could be brought to life and so we created the Champion Transparency Council with a team of outside third parties, including Veterinary physicians and real-world pet parents.

It was an industry first and required the company to be transparent in every way about ingredient sourcing and all aspects of product creation. The Council members were given complete access to the kitchen from loading dock to packaging line and also witnessed every aspect of how food is made. Additionally, they visited the farms, ranches and fish suppliers to see where the ingredients like fresh Bison and Catfish were sourced.

They were hands on with the fish later to appear in a bag of pet food.

Emergent helped build a multi-channel communications platform around The Council members’ experiences and independent reports. The Council participated in media interviews, ads were developed, reports were distributed through social media channels, and web pages established as a home base for their content. The Council members’ reports were personal, emotive and filled with examples of their own life experiences with their pets as well as what they saw, learned and experienced in Champion’s kitchens and supplier activities.

This program by the way, was Champion’s first engagement with an outside agency partner and so the entire program was built on a modest budget where every dollar spent needed to work like 10.

The bottom line – The Transparency Council effort made heroes of partner farmers and told stories through the authentic, credible voices of pet parents and Vets. As a pet business first, Champion’s visibility in the industry media went from near zero to a standout share of voice leader.

Most importantly, the Transparency Council verified and validated what Champion claims about their food and provided the evidence to earn trust and belief about pet diet quality among pet parents, distributors and key stakeholders. This coincided with the company’s successful move into Petco and helped the business retain the confidence of its large community of independent pet retailers.

Transparency proved the point. It helps people get to trust because the character of the communication is honest and trustworthy.

The secret sauce of this effort is the nuance and attention to detail required: from how the Council is constructed and managed to how the communication was presented, the messaging that was emphasized and timing of its distribution. Expertise as you can imagine is required.

Transparency can be a strategic lever to enhanced marketing outcomes

These days people want to know more about the foods and beverages they ingest. They care about the quality of ingredients used and want to know the backstory on where ingredients came from and the standards employed to ensure freshness, quality and safety.

The number one concern for consumers is health and wellness. This is served through the quality of the food and beverage they buy. This helps us understand why the food and beverage industry is being turned upside down in the quest for products with cleaner, simpler ingredients and responsible sourcing.

More often than not, opportunities are missed by many brands because the product creation story isn’t fully realized. Marketers want people to believe what’s claimed.

Trust must be earned and transparency is a trust engine. When correctly deployed it works to humanize the brand voice and build a deeper and more valued connection.

What’s your dormant transparency story?

How can you distinguish your brand as the one deserving of trust among your competitive set?

Emergent can help you discover how to leverage these insights for improved communications effectiveness and consumer engagement.

Let’s talk!

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

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. 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.

Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism

December 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism”

Most brand messaging misses the mark because it’s upside down.

Far too many brands and businesses are inadvertently ignoring the fundamentals of successful communication. Engagement is elusive and budgets are wasted because brand stories are either ignored or actively avoided. The misfire happens because the basic principles of how consumers respond to communication relevant to them isn’t embedded in how the brand goes to market.

Every great, powerful and engaging story needs a hero, a problem to solve, a guide, a struggle and a transformative outcome. But most of the time brands make themselves the hero of the story, focused on myopic selling of product features and benefits. Right there the disconnect occurs because consumers aren’t listening any longer to self-serving forms of brand outreach.

Brand narcissism is alive and well…

It’s a pandemic. Far too many businesses believe the marketing strategy needs to be about themselves. Conventional logic states the challenge is clearly, succinctly stating the product attributes in a persuasive (where creative weighs in) way. There was a time pre-Internet when brands controlled the flow of communication and this form of outreach was the norm.

In the digital era consumers have gained absolute control over the brand/user relationship and their ability to avoid “selling” is unassailable. All it takes is a few hours of commercial interruption on TV and you are witness to the pandemic of brand narcissism that reigns over the airwaves on a daily basis. The explosion of streaming platforms that are devoid of commercial side trips is testimony to the relief consumers want from the constant drip of 30-second selling.

The secret to going from upside down to right side up

But there’s hope, and light, and resolution ahead. Together we can end the tyranny of brand narcissism and gain the eyes, ears and devotion of consumers who embrace the brands they care about and actively “join” the brand as members of a growing, engaged community.

Who is the hero of the brand story? It’s not the brand, it’s the consumer. When the brand puts the consumer at the center of strategy creation and works backwards from there, the door is opened to a potential connection. It is the consumer’s needs, pain points, problems, concerns, wants, desires and aspirations that matter most. The story begins with them and in that moment of insight we find the most important opportunity for improved brand communication and outcomes: relevance – to the consumer and their life’s journey that we are working to improve.

What is the brand’s role in the story? Every winning, successful cinematic story follows a similar path – the brand is the guide, the expert, the wizard who helps the hero learn and understand the path to transformation. Luke Skywalker had Yoda. Frodo had Gandalf. The brand is an inspiring coach in a storytelling dynamic that begins with understanding and empathy for the consumer’s interests and struggle for improvement.

Food and beverage the living example

What is it consumers are looking for from what they eat and drink? You may think it’s 25 percent less sodium or plant-based ingredients. People have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. What they care about is their health and wellness; the connection that has to their energy, performances and longevity.

We are all human beings and in that irrefutable condition, who desire the experience of great taste and the warmth of social interaction around the dinner table with friends and families. For some, the love of food runs deep in the kitchen where creativity, experimentation and learning are unleashed, while delivering the product of that skill as an expression of love for others in the family who will enjoy the feast they’ve prepared.

Functionally some foods may also be tools to improve exercise regimens, sports activity, assist sleep, promote brain function or the like. But it isn’t the chemistry they care about. It’s the ambitions they have for personal change and improvement. Are we talking about their journey, conflicts and desires? Is the brand a guide and coach along the way?

This works when the brand realizes the path to greatness and transformative growth is fueled by actually, actively working to improve the lives of customers. This requires a less transactional view of the relationship.

The role of higher purpose

At a recent gathering of new and emerging brands at a conference in Chicago connecting potential investors with founders, a dozen companies made their pitch to an audience of potential check writers and influencers. I was surprised that only one out of the dozen presenters talked about a higher purpose for their brand and business.

It may be popular these days to say that the vast collection of new food brands now coming to a shelf near you all begin with a mission to support sustainable agriculture, lower the carbon foot print, hydrate those around the globe without access to potable water, but we find that many have not optimized or fully discovered the higher purpose they need to embrace.

Why does this matter? Because consumers want to align themselves with brands that share similar values. People are on the hunt for deeper meaning and care, deeply, about the role beyond commerce that brands play in making the world a better place. This cannot be bolted on to the marketing plan; it needs to come from a deeper space and with greater significance that informs every decision the business makes.

The impact on brand storytelling and traction is dramatic. People want to be a part of something greater than themselves. When the brand has a real mission, there’s a reason to join the community of followers that transcends the high-quality recipe made with natural, organic ingredients.

This is harder than it looks

You can’t dial up higher purpose from central casting. You can’t simply alter the tone of your communication without understanding the consumer’s real wants and wishes. At Emergent, we employ a message mapping process designed to capture this insight and intentionally design the brand story around the connection between consumer as hero and brand as guide.

It can be hard to stop the train of brand narcissism because it feels somewhat natural to be inwardly focused. After all most businesses are organized around the herculean efforts to create a terrific product.

However, the benefits of moving to an enlightened model with the consumer at the center are significant and bring assurance that the investments made in outbound communication will indeed engage and be received.

After all, brands want confidence that the investments in marketing are optimal and perform as desired. That confidence will be realized when the outreach plan understands the vital role of reciprocity in the relationship with consumers who graciously grant their most precious asset: scarce time and attention.

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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