Posts in Transformation

Building the Human Brand

Building a More Human Brand

October 19th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Building a More Human Brand”

Time to banish the old marketing playbook

Remember the good old days of command and control, interruption-style marketing and business development strategies? Consumers were viewed as “targets” to be persuaded through repetition and subtle manipulation of their emotions or pocketbook sensibilities.

Vestiges of this way of thinking remain handcuffed to far too many brands that continue pushing feature, benefit and price messages at consumers in both digital and analog channels. Thus, why engagement is increasingly hard to secure. Consumers have become serial avoiders of self-promotional brand outreach as a result. No one likes to be “sold.”

It’s time to stop, reconsider and move on to build more human-centric brands.

Think for a minute about the people you care about in your life. Your family, friends and colleagues. Those closest to you enjoy a special position of value and affection. You’re concerned about their welfare and wellbeing. You make time for them, cherish them and invest in their progress. In short, you care. You express love in words and deeds. You listen. You help. You support and respect them. Moreover, you don’t see those relationships as merely transactional.

Now think about your business behaviors and how customers are viewed and treated. Is it the same? You say well, we’re in business to sell our products. To be sure, but maybe the goal of share and volume glory follows a different path now. One that is built on a model of reciprocity that looks more and more like the valued relationships we have in real life.

Not ‘data points’, they’re human beings

What are the five things your customers want from you?

  1. Inspiration
  2. Advice
  3. Guidance
  4. Education
  5. Entertainment

We have moved from a product focus to content. Are you optimizing the brand communications arsenal for help over hype? Here are three observations that should be considered in developing human-led brand communication.

Utility over cleverness

This may be the toughest consideration of all when viewed through the lens of ad creative traditions. It has been the province of creatives in the agency game to be focused on translating a key product selling proposition into the artful headline or theme. The theory: engagement is achieved through artistic wordsmithing. An artful turn of phrase or catchy tagline is prized as an achievement on the road to being “intrusive” and therefore noticed in the vast sea of message overload.

Times have changed and while great copy is going to be a key driver of engagement, the character and content of the communication is better served through its usefulness rather than pure cleverness alone. Attention is hard to secure. The path to gaining consumer participation is better aided by providing relevant value. That means the message moves closer to serving the consumer’s role as hero of the brand story, in a narrative that is helpful and educational more than self-promotional. It’s about them not us.

Someone is better than everyone

The definition of sound strategy is making tough choices. When the intent is to be all things to all people, the outcome is mattering to no one. It is better to focus on someone rather than everyone. To do that requires sacrifice. It means you select an audience cohort closest to the center of your most ardent user base. Then zero in on what they want and care about. Prune the rest.

In our own experience this played out to great effect when former client Sargento cheese agreed to focus on a consumer segment called The Food Adventurer. This audience of cheese lovers and heavy users care deeply about the quality of ingredients they use. They love to cook, pay attention to culinary media. They are routinely engaged on topics and content that help advance their skills in the kitchen and culinary creativity. By focusing here, Sargento created an opportunity to matter to an engaged audience of food fans, rather than speaking to everyone  (usually defined as moms with kids) across the expanse of the commodity cheese marketplace.

Make a choice, narrow the focus to those who care and are therefore listening.

Inspirational beats transactional

There is a great temptation to assume if you aren’t hitting hard on the product features and benefits, then you’re not selling effectively. But the world has changed. Gaining attention isn’t a math problem of calculating media channels to frequency of message distribution. If the relationship economy is respected, then you understand that winning permission for a conversation depends on following a different set of rules.

  • Your brand voice is built around empathy and care for the passions, interests and concerns of your best customers. You understand that the role of the brand in this relationship is one of guide and coach. Your goal to help them overcome the barriers to their success and fulfillment.

Your brand becomes a source of encouragement and education. Sargento helps the home cook deliver on their passion for creativity in the kitchen. Boom – now we’re talking. Literally. Now we’re actually communicating rather than monologuing. The brand stops barking at people and begins to engage in their community and lifestyle in a useful, valuable way.

When you speak to those in your orbit that you care about, are you selling to them? Pushing self-serving messages at them? No instead you are genuinely listening and helping.

The enlightened brand building of our era begins with injecting humanity into the marketing plan by making consumers the center of it and deciding to earn a relationship based on valuable-ness.

The last word: “Every brand is now a B-corp” – Ana Andjelic, The Sociology of Business

We are in the midst of another evolutionary shift. Consumers care deeply about your values, mission and actions to address social issues like climate impact and sustainability. They care about the impact their buying decision has on the world around them. They have connected the dots between their purchases and a consequence. They want to identify and act on more sustainable choices.

You can help them do that. But be aware that substance and authenticity matter here. Your own sustainability readiness house needs to be in order before invoking solidarity with consumers on these concerns. Sustainability can’t be a message construct floating independently from policies and standards that address the company’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment. There should be clearly expressed targets and actions steps to mitigate those challenges.

Embracing sustainability is yet another way to put the brand “in league” with consumers on a culture imperative issue they care about and expect brands to be part of the solution.

All of this coalesces around one key point: when brands understand that customer relationships these days operate a lot like the kind we have with people we care about, then you understand how the brand should behave and engage in that setting. More empathy, guidance and coaching than promoting. It’s time for the more human brand.

If this guidance strikes a chord as you look towards strategic planning in the year ahead, then let’s start an informal conversation about your concerns and needs. Use this link and 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.

Higher Purpose brand building

How to Build a Higher Purpose Brand

October 12th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “How to Build a Higher Purpose Brand”

“Want to have a more meaningful relationship with your users, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.”

Ten years ago a culture shift reached the tipping point and changed the dynamics of brand building forever. Consumers acquired full control over brand engagement and became serial avoiders of overt self-reverential and promotional marketing outreach. Selling in its traditional form was no longer an effective path to interaction with users. Analytical messaging about brand recipes, ingredients and technology would not be enough to draw consumers close. The path to purchase irrevocably changed.

In the wake of this transformation in how brand-to-consumer relationships are created, emerged a new and more enlightened platform to drive brand marketing effectiveness called Higher Purpose Brand Building.

No longer is the marketing best practices game plan to be grounded solely in promoting product features and benefits. Still as 2022 draws near and strategic planning is in high gear, we still see vestiges of old-school thinking that follows the “if you build it, they will come” marketing methodology. Higher Purpose brand strategy remains underleveraged in CPG and retail categories.

Here we will provide insight into purpose-built brand practices and how best to define this anchoring platform that will positively impact every aspect of how your organization does business and how you communicate in the marketplace.

What happened, why purpose matters

It is the intersection between need and passion where people will find affection and the basis for a relationship with your brand. It is expressed this way because the world has changed and relating to a brand is now fundamentally the same thing as relating to a person.

The digital environment we are doing business in abruptly ended effectiveness of interruption-style marketing. At the same time, consumers evolved as purchasing motivation moved closer to a symbolic act and signaling of what people want the world around them to know they care about, their values and beliefs.

As such sustainable brand relationships are now built on admiration and trust – and that insight, properly executed, can deliver significant financial premiums.

  • Purpose-built brands represent goodwill that can be isolated as a component of business value.
  • They can deliver higher margins, traffic.
  • They also work to reduce the cost of promotion, improving ROI and bottom-line performance.

How? Because real purpose creates the opportunity for transcendence – the state of being admired – where consumers “join” your brand as members, not merely customers.

In order to build a more sustainable brand, you have a responsibility to push added meaning, trust and belief to the forefront of the consumer relationship. Said another way, you have to stand for something important in your users’ lives. A higher purpose defines your business’ true north and reason you exist. It should be a deeper and more lifestyle relevant concept that reaches beyond making or retailing high quality products.

Goes without saying maximizing business growth and profit is not a purpose. A real, human-relevant, and unselfish purpose is a purpose – and in the long run devotion to it will indeed maximize financial outcomes.

How to create a purpose-informed brand

This is an effort to codify your brand’s inner self. It’s vital to invest in this process because the marketing game has shifted completely from command and control (persuasion around overt feature/benefit selling) to the Relationship Building Era.

The goal of higher purpose planning is to anchor your brand in a new and deeper understanding of its mission – and in doing so provide a cohesive guide for all go-to-market tools and strategies.

Mapping brands on the relative strength or absence of Purpose bona fides can help bring added context to evaluating what best practices should look like in the competitive set. Here are four primary conditions that inform where brands might exist on strength of their Purpose plan.

Limited – province of brands that struggle with flat to declining sales, and who command little respect or trust from the consumer.

Reluctant – brands that have limited respect and generate little emotion, but whose pricing strategy or competitive advantage trumps consumer reticence.

Emotional equity – brands that maintain respect in spite of concept limitations, transactional marketing behaviors, higher prices or other competitive disadvantages.

Sustainable – more enlightened businesses that understand brand relationships work on the basis of true, authentic reciprocity and humanity – and are not superficial, opportunistic or purely transactional.

The depth of your brand mission and purpose can range from obvious and somewhat superficial to something altogether deeper and more engaging. To help you strive for the latter consider this basic premise:

  • If your brand were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, would anybody but financially-interested parties truly care? Said more succinctly: is brand advocacy now a more important and relevant goal than loyalty? YES it is.

The further along the ‘help over hype’ continuum the concepts gets, the more transformational. If we’re looking at how best to leverage core purpose, then it will of necessity become the heart of everything your company does, informing marketing, hiring, sourcing, operations and communications.

The primary components of higher purpose thinking include:

Why (does your company and brand exist):

  • We exist to help people ___________________________________________________.

How (you deliver on our mission):

  • We deliver tools, guidance, insight and education to ____________________________.

What (business are you really in):

  • Our company and brand provides ____________________________________________.

Your Brand Stand

Out of the analysis and evaluation of why your business exists and what you stand for comes a statement we refer to as the Brand Stand. It is an anchoring expression of your higher purpose that informs company decisions and behavior. It is remarkable what happens internally when this work is done to create and codify values and beliefs. Employees and other stakeholders rally to the mission.

The principles and purpose become an anchoring lever for the organization and immediately changes the dynamics of marketplace communication to create more powerful and impactful social, earned, paid and content strategies. Your brand voice acquires more impact and emotional gravitas. You are giving users something to believe in, a deeper meaning and reason to be engaged with you.

As stated earlier the outcome of this is greater efficiency and effectiveness for your investments in brand marketing because it is not dependent on tonnage of media spend.

You are no longer competing on technical specsmanship which is more difficult to sustain and defend, instead your brand’s value proposition rises above legacy category tropes.

If you are interested in learning more about Higher Purpose Brand Building you can access our guide here: https://bit.ly/HigherPurposeStrategies

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.

Principles of Brand Higher Purpose

What Marketers Keep Missing about Higher Purpose

August 24th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Customer Experience, Customer Journey Map, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transformation, Validation 0 comments on “What Marketers Keep Missing about Higher Purpose”

Why are brands getting it wrong more often than right?

Brand Higher Purpose is a vital strategic concept that will inform the success of modern relevant and growing businesses. Surprisingly, we discover it is frequently misappropriated or left unattended. Why? Brands can be held captive by strategies handcuffed to transactional thinking that intentionally or not, views consumers as merely walking wallets. This, however, occurs at a time when brand trust is at an all-time low. Facts are, the dynamic of how consumers relate to brands has moved on to a more enlightened relationship-based approach founded on reciprocity and mutual self-interest. Yet many brands are still operating on CPG marketing principles that are 30 years old.

What is Higher Purpose exactly and how do you deploy it to build your brand and business? We unpack the DNA of Higher Purpose best practices here.

The Foundation of Higher Purpose

Cultural changes are among the most important bellwether conditions brands must constantly study to remain vital and resonant to users. It’s why the Emerging Trends Report exists. Yet this important cultural sea change impacting food, beverage, lifestyle and related retail categories has languished in a backwater of misinterpretation. While Higher Purpose is a priority marketing asset, it is an all-too frequently underleveraged strategy.

The current era of purpose-built branding was presaged in a 2017 landmark study on food and beverage purchase behaviors authored by Deloitte Consulting and the Food Marketing Institute (rebranded now as Food Industry Association). Their report quantified and qualified what Emergent was already reporting: a seismic shift in consumer preferences and behaviors on the path to purchase. For decades, taste, price and convenience were the dominant consumer purchase motivators for food and beverage brands. This condition helped perpetuate the magnetic hold of large cap legacy brands that were inherently terrific at consistency and mass media awareness-building over time.

As issues and values began to hold sway over consumer preferences, we saw these new attributes surpass the historic patterns of buying motivation. The Deloitte/FMI study revealed that transparency, health and wellness, food safety, sustainability and visibility to the supply chain were eclipsing the traditional taste/price/convenience model on the path to purchase.

When issues, values and beliefs are as important, if not more so, than the product performance itself, what does that tell you? A cultural change has taken root and with it the advancement of purpose-built branding now supported with actionable consumer insight data. Yet still this strategic construct remains frustratingly anemic – rather than executed with skill and authenticity.

When brand purpose is defined as an unselfish, human-relevant purpose, great things can happen!

Higher Purpose is different than the transactional model that has dominated CPG and retail marketing plans for decades. It presents us with a more human-like path to brand building founded on reciprocity and contributing to the growth, welfare and quality of life of the people brands exist to serve.

To gain context, let’s first describe what Brand Higher Purpose is NOT:

  • Philanthropy or “cause” marketing
  • Another word for ESG commitments
  • A mission statement
  • A brand positioning
  • A campaign tagline or theme
  • Code for better PR strategies
  • Issues management

Brand Higher Purpose is founded in deep consumer insights about the lifestyle needs, aspirations and concerns that govern the lives of a brand’s best users. It is in this understanding that brand Purpose can be authentically defined and brought to life.

Two key issues to examine:

  • Your users want more from you than your good product. Are you prepared to give them the ‘more’ they seek and add deeper meaning to what your business stands for, does and works to accomplish for your users’ greater good?
  • If your brand value proposition is linked to your best users’ beliefs and values, and in the spirit of reciprocity – how would that impact your business operations and behaviors?

The three primary components of Higher Purpose creation:

  • Why your company exists, in the context of insight to your core users’ beliefs, values and aspirations.
  • How your company delivers on its why (purpose) through tools and strategies designed to bring your purpose to life.
  • What business are you really in based on your purpose, and how does that impact your operations, policies, standards, in-market behaviors and marketing?

Imagine the food retailer that determines it is in business to fully support the health, wellbeing and culinary creativity of its core shoppers. What tools and strategies would it deploy to bring this to life in education, product assortment and in-store communication and experiences?

Knowing this, what business is the retailer really in – knowing that the customer relationship is deeper than merely selling at velocity bags, cans and boxes off shelves?

Think of the impact this has on brand voice and meaning. What happens when the brand’s values and beliefs fully align with what consumers care about and aspire to become? What happens when a pet food brand determines it is in the pet lifestyle enablement business rather than selling high quality kibble and canned meals? It opens an entirely new conversation with consumers based on brand as partner, coach and guide on their pet parenting journey.

This is where relevance and resonance lives!

If you want to have a deeper relationship with your consumers, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning. To do this successfully the consumer must be at the center of strategic planning. Your goal is to define how the brand facilitates your consumers’ lifestyle needs and concerns.

Dove brands’ higher purpose revolves around supporting the self-esteem goals of its user base. Notice how this issue sits adjacent to but distinctly apart from the product attributes and benefits.

It’s always going to be a real, authentic, human-relevant purpose that sits above commerce!

Brand Sustainability Analysis

Emergent created a proprietary planning tool for helping clients determine the right higher purpose strategy based on brand history, strengths, consumer base, business operations and current marketing strategies.

We use this tool to define Higher Purpose for a brand and then how it will influence literally every aspect of how a company operates, creates products, innovates, treats it employees and goes to market.

If you want to learn more about the path to Higher Purpose, download a complimentary copy of our Brand Higher Purpose overview that summarizes the insights and strategies for a stronger, better and more effective brand marketing platform.

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.

The barrier to climate investment is fear

What is the biggest barrier to sustainability investments?

August 12th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Carbon footprint, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Consumer insight, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Navigation, storytelling, Sustainability, Transformation, Transparency 0 comments on “What is the biggest barrier to sustainability investments?”

…It isn’t the supply chain or manufacturing

Imagine an out-of-control cruise ship bearing down on the sunny Island resort dock at 30-knots full speed with no captain at the wheel. 200,000 tons of steel coming in hard to shore, kicking up a gigantic spray of water behind it. There you are at the coffee shop in front of the pier, enjoying your latte while waiting for the ship to arrive. You watch in horror as this gigantic floating hotel with 4,000 souls aboard is barreling right for you, the bow getting taller and taller in the closing moments. You freeze – unable to move as the disastrous, tragic end draws near – paralyzed by _________.

The word is fear.

You didn’t see it earlier, but painted on the bow in bright green, it’s the USS Climate Chaos coming in hot …literally.

Sustainability at one time was more leisurely focused on clean energy use and efforts to improve, say, recycling and clean energy from the manufacturing plant to customer warehouses. The annual report would recite the efficiencies and efforts made to use less fossil fuels in the daily routine of manufacturing, shipping and commerce.

But wait; more recently we learn that greenhouse gas levels, despite the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic, have reached their highest concentration in 4 million years and shows no signs of slowing down. The planet is rapidly warming. Climate impacts start to get closer and closer to home through unrelenting wildfires, droughts, super-storms and wild weather shifts. You can feel it and see it now.

Then as if on cue, along comes a series of reports that reveal the incredibly significant relationship our food system has to climate impact, now the second leading contributor of global greenhouse gas production at 24%. Consumers who are already increasingly aware and sensitized to big societal issues like climate trouble, begin to realize there is a relationship between their food choices and climate outcomes.

The word sustainability acquires new gravitas and deeper meaning as it is redefined to signal climate threat from supply chain actors like livestock production and soil-damaging industrial agriculture practices.

  • Who knew it took 1,600 gallons of water, massive land resources and two years to produce one 16-ounce steak?
  • Why didn’t we know before that the world’s largest carbon sink, the Amazon rainforest, is disappearing at the rate of an acre per second due to repurposing the forested land for animal agriculture and crops to feed them?

Sustainability may now be the most popular term in modern marketing

Yet it is still vastly underserved as companies wrestle with its deeper meaning and implications. Will we get to solutions soon enough to prevent portions of the planet from becoming uninhabitable? Or will the streets of Toronto begin to resemble Beverly Hills with giant royal palm trees lining the Yorktown shopping district, while the southern hemisphere reels from millions of climate refugees running north for survival?

  • Sustainability is an operational imperative that starts at the field or ranch and works its way forward to the retail store. The challenge ahead begins with understanding what an organization’s carbon footprint looks like though objective, data-driven scientific analysis that runs all the way back through the supply chain and forward through manufacturing, distributing and recovery of packaging materials.

Within this analysis comes visibility to the conditions that impact climate threat contributions and identifying where improvements can be made, and carbon mitigation targets set.

The biggest threat to progress here is various forms of organizational fear

Given the speed at which climate threat is turning into a passion point for consumers on the path to a purchase decision, there is a need to get this right sooner rather than later. Yet some companies still struggle to navigate.

Why?

Fear of change

Change is hard. No one likes it except the most progressive leaders who see it as a path to reinvention and growth. Changing institutionalized thinking and processes is difficult. But change it must. We need a wildfire of movement towards credible sustainability solutions.

Fear of risk

The street looks for quarterly reports that repeat positive progress. Companies may worry that fundamental changes in infrastructure and operational standards will be a risk – that even with disciplined planning, to some degree, – they’ll still be steering in uncharted waters. Yes, but it’s a necessary risk worth taking.

Fear of truth

Every business resides in a glass house these days because anything that can be known, will be known. Are there some policies and behaviors that under scrutiny in the light of day could cause a little unease?

Transparency is demanded by users and stakeholders at a time when missteps can be discovered and reported globally in the digital age of communication. You already own that problem. The larger social responsibility demerit is knowing the problems exist yet doing nothing to improve them.

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine…

Thinking differently – turns out robust sustainability commitments and policy are actually a path to improved innovation, financial outcomes and business growth.

Our partners at Brand Experience Group (BXG) made the business case, quantifying the impact of holistic sustainability strategies on balance sheet progress. Overwhelming evidence points to business growth from progressive sustainability programs, properly communicated to all relevant stakeholders. The research also proves that absence of these programs leads to sub-optimal business performance. (if you want to see the report, request it here).

How can this be true?

Because the number of consumers who care about sustainability investments, programs and verified outcomes is NOT some small tertiary cohort. According to BXG:

  • 34% of consumers are deeply passionate about sustainability progress, and
  • another 33% are “concerned” about sustainability policies and behaviors.
  • That’s 67 percent of your consuming marketplace.

If consumers want it, you need to deliver, right?

In a sentence: sustainability is good for business.

It may require changes in how the company operates, sources and manufacturers, but these changes are necessary when the great ship Climate Chaos is coming in all gas and no brakes to ultimately reward the climate caretakers and punish the deniers who claim they didn’t see it coming.

Is this going to be expensive for our economy?

Not if the thesis set out by think tank RethinkX is correct. They forecast ambitious but realistic targets for change in the next 10 years, based on deployment of technologies we already have in place, such as precision fermentation in food making. They state:

“By leveraging the power of market forces, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions can be transformed from a costly expense into a lucrative investment at every scale from local to global. Regions, nations, communities, cities, businesses, and investors choosing to embrace and lead the disruptions rather than resist them will reap enormous economic and social rewards as well as environmental benefits.”

Decarbonizing the global economy will not be costly, it will instead save trillions of dollars…

“By leveraging the power of market forces, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions can be transformed from a costly expense into a lucrative investment at every scale from local to global. Regions, nations, communities, cities, businesses, and investors choosing to embrace and lead the disruptions rather than resist them will reap enormous economic and social rewards as well as environmental benefits.” – RethinkX Climate Change Report

Time to get on board and pilot the new Climate Threat ship to a better, brighter and hopefully cooler future.

If you want to get a clear understanding of how to get ahead of the unstoppable and pervasive need for sustainability readiness, read our Brand Sustainability Solution report. You can download it free here.

If you want to know exactly where your business is on climate readiness, take our five-minute online Sustainability Readiness questionnaire. It is complimentary along with the scoring and follow-up report on what the results mean. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by knowing exactly where your company sustainability challenges reside. Here’s the link to take the electronic questionnaire.

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.

Losing brand relevance when the consumer evolves

Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?

August 3rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Customer Experience, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, food experiences, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?”

What happens when the consumer moves on and the brand doesn’t.

The pace of change these days is unsettlingly quick. Pandemic-authored forms of disruption have come hard and fast, supplemented by equally measured swings in consumer behavior, priorities and preferences. The world around us is evolving. Needs are changing. Attitudes and interests are getting a makeover. The pace of marketplace shifts is accelerating.

  • We’ve entered an entirely new era of marketing challenges where consumers move more quickly than brands. This creates fractures in relevance and perceived value as businesses remain anchored to a legacy business model or said more simply, “how we’ve always done it.’

When the consumer’s wants and needs move to another location on the relevance chess board and the brand doesn’t move with them, what happens when the business suddenly finds itself at odds with its user base?

Changes now upon us –

  • Modern food culture has gained new levels of sophistication.
  • What food is and where it comes from is headed towards a bioengineered future.
  • Health and wellness needs are now dominant preference considerations.
  • Sustainability concerns have morphed to focus on climate impacts.
  • Shopping patterns and behaviors are now linked to extraordinary experiences.
  • Safety and security are simmering underneath a cauldron of uncertainty.
  • Brand trust deficits compound while also multiplying perceived risks on the path to purchase.

Challenges that result –

  • Your product portfolio hasn’t advanced to match the consumer’s evolving quality definition and expectation.
  • You’re not looking hard enough at innovation driven by climate outcomes and requiring advanced bioengineering.
  • Your products are not fully in sync with health and wellness lifestyle goals.
  • You are still narrowly focused on clean energy as the platform for sustainability solutions.
  • There’s nothing remarkable and entertaining about shopping your store.
  • You haven’t answered the bellwether safety and security issues swaying your users.
  • You haven’t placed trust creation at the core of your strategic marketing plan.

New brands are stepping into the gap

Where there’s a lingering need, others will step in to fulfill it. The world is ripe for entrepreneurs who wish to serve these evolving needs creating a business environment founded on new definitions of what scale is; value propositions that re-write the rule book on average cost of goods; and what people will pay for entirely new and higher standards of quality. Brand narratives are moving to focus on purpose and values while historic brand stories remain tethered to feature/benefit selling.

When people change, if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.

This summer I attended a backyard community barbecue where the entire menu was a trip into Korean culinary culture. It was mesmerizingly good, a welcome departure from hot dogs and burgers, and an eyeopener on flavor interplay between sweet (sauce) and sour (kimchi). The novel ingredients were off the charts delicious and created a learning moment.

The lesson: once people have experiences that alter their world order and concept of what’s important, tastes good or matters to their sense of values and beliefs, it’s nearly impossible to go back to the old behavioral patterns.

Food culture refinement is fueling change

You just know expectations on what great food is like are shifting when more sophisticated menus and unique global taste experiences start showing up at the corner neighborhood bar – gastropubs are getting Michelin stars!! We are awash in cooking competitions, chef authored packaged artisanal foods, fancy meal kits, and preoccupation with fresh local food ingredients that require preparation skills.

As people acquire knowledge and experience, perceptions shift. The lowly Brussel sprout, and veggies generally, enjoy a renaissance as cheffy preparations take this mini-cabbage (same species of plant – the brassica oleracea) sulphur bomb to new heights of flavor transformation with cured meat and high temp roasting to caramelize the leafy exterior. Cooking techniques magically alter a one-time musty vegetal eating experience with deeper umami flavors.  

The American palate is maturing alongside growing enthusiasm for more complex and layered food preparations and menus. Are food brands right there with them helping share the future of food, or mired in a legacy infrastructure of ultra-processed preparations that lean too heavily on fat, sugar and sodium to drive their appeal?

While popping open a bag of potato chips is still a common snack time ritual, people making their own chips from scratch isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. Food culture in America is rapidly evolving with raised expectations for tastes, flavor profiles and gustatory adventures.

When food experience is driven by ingredients

The basic legacy concept behind packaged food solutions is convenience, an effort to reduce or remove preparation from the equation. But what happens when millions of consumers get a taste of the very flavor layering techniques that make chefs the culinary superstars that they are? Lockdowns helped push people to their stoves. It’s hard to go back to standard boxed mac and cheese when you’ve enjoyed the outcome of informed cooking mixing a béchamel sauce with aged gouda and lardons to envelop an elbow noodle in indulgent magic.

It’s even harder to dismiss these developments when observing 12-year-old kids on FoodTV’s “Chopped Junior” show whip out a wine reduction sauce for pan roasted halibut in under five minutes? Suddenly an otherwise neutral, bland tasting fish rises to a new position in flavor town at the hands of a tween. Does this not signal a change in how we see food ideas, expectations on preparations, romance around the possibilities of better food experiences?

Ingredients take center stage in menus. Packaged products with reimagined ingredients not slavishly tied to what’s cheapest have this incredible competitive advantage of being able to tell their product creation story proudly. This is happening at a time when that’s exactly the kind of behind-the-curtain tale consumers want to know.

How to disrupt yourself

One sure-fire way to guide innovation, restaging, re-purposing and reimagining what your brand is on earth to accomplish – is putting the consumer at the center of your strategic planning and product development strategies.

  • This is harder to do than it sounds because businesses often reflexively sit in service of their legacy brick and mortar infrastructure, supply chain traditions and sensibilities around average retail pricing.

When the consumer is willing to pay more for demonstrable upgrades in quality, where is that coming from? It is the very knowledge they’ve acquired through elevated food experiences where they learn about the relationship between better ingredients and better taste – and often healthier food outcomes to boot. The added spend equals sufficient added value.

Every food and beverage brand should be led by food culture anthropologists, scanning for the sea changes at a time when shifts are occurring more rapidly. We’ve reached a point where the consumer will inevitably move on while the brand plays catch-up or suffers relevance declines.

  • When values change and the consumer wants unique, customized higher quality food experiences, you don’t want to find yourself at odds where you end up fighting them to stay put. Sure enough, a new brand will hit the radar to answer their call for quality innovation.

If you want to stay ahead of developing trends, be sure to register here for the Emerging Trends Report. If you’d like to discuss how your brand and business might evolve to stay ahead of food culture changes, use this link to say hello and invite an informal 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.

The power of emotional brand storytelling

(You Can) Unleash the Power of More Meaningful Marketing

July 19th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Customer Journey Map, editorial relevance, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Social media, Social proof, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “(You Can) Unleash the Power of More Meaningful Marketing”

Crafting stories that inspire action, change, movement

“Tell the truth but make the truth fascinating. You know you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.” — David Ogilvy

Want to benefit from the persuasive impact of more meaningful marketing, then imbue your outreach with deeper meaning. At Emergent’s home page, your first encounter is a statement that reads: Crafting emotional, meaningful, powerful brand stories…

This phrase captures a core essence of what we do. Yes, we focus our communications work in the tactical areas of earned (publicity), owned (content) and social media. However, the real power and exceptionalism we bring to the table is in building stories well-told, where a brand’s customer is always the hero and thus finds themselves in it and benefits from the guidance and useful help a client’s brand provides.

Here we chart the path to better, more effective brand storytelling.

In the end great stories are respectful of the language used to tell them.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Mark Twain

Anyone who reads the Emerging Trends Report knows we publish early and often here on a wide range of topics from sustainability to brand strategy and media best practices. What these stories really ladder up to, beyond their inherent message, is an audition of our storytelling chops. Said another way, through our articles we’re demonstrating the importance of words and their meaning.

For the most part our published works are about guidance and coaching, thought leadership on topics of value to CEOs and CMOs and heads of Communications and PR. This in fact is a leading-edge strategy for more effective marketing. When you lean in to help, inform and inspire your audience to improve, you are casting the brand in its proper role of offering help over hype.

This is different than self-promotion that speaks endlessly to brand features, technology and formulation facts. While these elements of brand benefit remain integral to the storyline, they shouldn’t lead it for the very reason to do so embeds the communication with an intractable disconnect.

Every single day your customer wakes up believing they are the hero of their own life’s journey. When the brand is preoccupied with itself, it competes with the consumer for the hero role, and so the outreach is ignored while the consumer moves on to find a brand that can help and support them in fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.

The power of relevance, words and context

Very early in my agency career I discovered that language and inspirational storytelling can have an immediate and profound effect, even in unlikely settings. I wrote a pitch to a business editor about a regional packaged foods client that found itself sandwiched between giant national brands with endless resources and store brands nipping underneath with lower priced versions of their products. I cast this as a power struggle for hearts and minds that could only be won with unique, strategically-elegant moves to separate and differentiate their brand from the adjacent competition. I invoked emotion by making it appear to be a very human conflict, a mini movie of sorts where the intrepid, nimble regional brand ultimately prevails.

The editor loved it. The outcome was a series of interviews that produced a front-page story with a gigantic illustration of a David-like figure toppling a gigantic national brand Goliath. The story wound up in retail account presentations as a key piece of evidence about why the brand deserved stronger placement, more facings and retailer support.

The pitch was unorthodox and unconventional to be sure, but then that’s where the magic came from. The right words can have profound impact on outcomes. All business, ultimately, is storytelling. Stories that are imbued with deeper meaning are far more likely to change hearts and minds than the clinical expressions of facts and figures.

Brands are famously in love with their technologies and mousetrap, believing that once the world is made aware of their formulation prowess, people will beat a path to their door in droves. But here is where we separate perception from reality. People are not analytical decision-making machines. They are in indeed feeling creatures who think and not the other way around. It is always going to be heart-over-head.

  • If you know that the humanization of your brand storytelling has got to be job one. It may sound counterintuitive, but when you ruthlessly let go of reflexive tendencies to self-promote and focus instead on how you can improve the lives and wellbeing of your key users, suddenly an entirely new world of powerful brand storytelling unfolds.

Tell a story and put your audience at the center. Give them a role to play. Solve their anxiety and help them believe in what you’re selling. It’s the nervous kid at basketball tryouts who gets injected with a splash of confidence the second his feet slip into a pair of Nike’s. This is the sheer power — and magic of a well-written advertisement.  Jonah Malin

In the brilliant, animated movie Ratatouille, Remy the culinary genius chef rat tries to inspire his more ordinary rat-ish sibling to embrace the love of flavor experiences by combining a bite of cheese (flavor bomb) with piece of fruit (flavor enhancer). Alas his less appreciative rodent brother couldn’t make the gustatory leap out of the garbage can. The love of flavor and taste experience lesson though is ultimately about the result of food enjoyment. Cheese romance isn’t in the cheese-making, it’s in the taste experience and social bond of sharing these moments with people we care about. Remy has it right!

Setting up a successful story

Two important moves can help ensure the path to better storytelling prevails.

First is hyper focus on building personas of the various marketplace consumer cohorts you wish to reach. Go deep on their behaviors, interests, concerns and passions. If our client permits insight research ahead of the persona work, all the better as we get underneath the pieces and parts of how users think and operate.

This work serves as inspiration on the story topics and narrative paths we pursue. If a story isn’t relevant to the lifestyle of its intended recipient, it will not be resonant either. How can you truly cast them as hero of the story if you don’t know them? When consumers see themselves in the story like holding up a mirror, you’ll have their attention – which is the whole point. The biggest hill to climb in modern marketing is securing the time and attention of those you want to engage.

If the story offers no intrinsic value or relevance to the audience, it’s unlikely to be seen or heard.

From personas we move to message mapping based on that study. It’s here where the client’s product bona fides are woven together with the emotionally-inspiring stories that bring the ‘deeper meaning’ requirement to life.

The message map also serves as a terrific interactive tool for internal discussion on how brand stories will be created and what will be conveyed.

There are two specific goals in better brand storytelling practices

  • Remove risk. Nearly 100% of the time consumers operate with one singular goal in mind: to avoid making a bad decision. If for any reason they think a product experience will be unsatisfactory, they will avoid it. Removing risk through verification and validation from respected, credible sources that affirms outcomes will be key to success.
  • Build trust. Here, the character of the storytelling and the voices deployed become essential to gaining attention and trial. Quite often we bring in third-party subject matter experts to help inject trust by validating the fundamentals of what we want consumers to believe. Social media plays a key role here as a tool for proof: people believe the stories told by their peers before they’ll believe what a company claims.

Language matters. Trust building words like endorsed, proven, tested, quality and results can be invoked to help cement confidence. That said, the most powerful and important narrative device at your disposal is emotion. If people feel something through your story it can have a profound impact on behavior and attitude.

Relate-able stories of personal transformation, struggle and achievement will have bearing on engagement and takeaway. This is where deeper meaning lives. People want to be part of something greater than themselves. Help make that a reality. Use your brand’s Higher Purpose to create the foundation of deeper meaning and belief. If there’s a clear and compelling mission, it will become a rallying point for people who “join” the brand as advocates not just users.

  • Relevant, emotional, human, credible stories are the grist of business growth and enviable brand equity. Now you’ve got something relevant to talk about!

If you think a little fresh thinking would be helpful to refine your brand story, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

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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