Posts in Transformation

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.

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

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

The New 5 P’s of CPG Marketing

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

Planning shifts to a set of consumer-savvy principles

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

Now, things have dramatically changed.  Technology has:

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Purpose

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

  1. Pride

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

  1. Partnership

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

  1. Protection

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

  1. Personalization

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

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

“Most marketing makes the company the hero.

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

Most marketers’ main aim is to close the sale.

The most effective marketing makes the customer the hero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet

March 6th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Uncategorized, Validation 0 comments on “Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet”

Transparency advances to gold standard for successful brand building

The value proposition of verified truth and honesty is rapidly turning into the foundation of strong marketing strategy in an era where consumers, starved of trust and belief, impose change on how brand relationships are built.

We’ve lost the signals of credibility.

Some time ago we reported on the impact of digital conditions in the marketplace and instantaneous access to anything you want to know. This manifests as ‘anything that can be known will be known’ – hence every company now resides in a glass house. This is an outcome of pervasive social and digital communication and dramatically increased scrutiny of how brands and businesses operate. Daily we are confronted with outed fraudulent practices, misinformation and less than genuine product representations, mislabeling, omissions, recalls, investigations, misrepresentations of fact, even indictments — all while messaging perceived as self-reverential brand apple-polishing and brimming with marketing hyperbole falls increasingly on deaf ears.

Toss into this milieu, everyone with a device is now a content creator…and not all content creators (or their motives) are created equally. Today’s digital platforms foster an environment where opinions look like news to our always scanning eye. And those who opine may not be professionally trained, held to or bound by time-honored journalistic practices which have protected the word-consuming public. John Kass, columnist at the Chicago Tribune recently lamented the rush-to-support style of reporting in the Jussie Smollett debacle as evidence of how journalism standards remain vital. He urged reporters to revisit the old but wise axiom of “if your mother loves you, check it out.”

Brand trust heads south.

An outcome of fractures in belief and trust is a shift away from marketing’s traditional tactic of attempted ‘persuasion.’ In this environment, when assertion-based claims are deployed it can breed further contempt. People aren’t buying any of it.

The unintended consequence of always on 24/7 availability of everything about everyone is the rapid spread of information chronicling corporate misfires. The steady drumbeat of ‘caught in the act’ misdeeds subtracts from the consumer’s willingness to trust any voice driven by a profit motive.

  1. In a recent global research study of some 350,000 consumers HAVAS advertising found that consumers would not shed a tear if 77% of the world’s brands were to disappear. So much for the millions invested in building brand equity. If the brand becomes a less relevant commodity in the consumer’s eyes, there’s no deeper meaning or relationship there to be had.

 

  1. Further 58% of advertising and promotion for the world’s 1,800 leading brands is seen as irrelevant. If the communication isn’t constructed around what’s important to the consumer, and is more about the brand’s self-reverential promotion, the disconnect is already embedded in the communications strategy.

 

  1. Of note, brands that are considered truly meaningful to people soared over other businesses on overall impression, purchase intent, advocacy and justification for premium pricing. Meaning, values and purpose are fundamental to earning permission for a relationship. Does a brand have a soul? Apparently one is needed. Those without risk dying on the shelf.

The study concludes: usefulness and delivering on what you say you are may be more important than anything else. What does that tell you? Demonstratingcredibility and taking actions to earn trust are prerequisites to engagement. Transparency is an important path to proven authenticity and belief.

  • The value proposition for truth and honesty goes up daily in proportion to the growing weariness over evidence that some brands operate selfishly at best and dishonestly at worst. What consumers want are brands that listen; that make a priority of working overtime to be relevant and engaged in their lifestyle aspirations. Consumers are resonating to brands that have a soul, stand for something greater than themselves, and see the value of integrity standards and faithfulness to more human values.

There’s equity and opportunity in operating openly. What does the alchemy of advantage look like when the formerly powerful rules of brand command and control that once governed how to go to market no longer apply?

Credible proof in the form of verified and validated claims

Several years ago we were helping a client (Schuman Cheese) in the cheese industry to mitigate rampant fraud, adulteration and mislabeling in their category. A significant percentage of the Italian cheese business in the U.S. was adulterated with lesser ingredients to protect profit margins. To help solve the challenge, we developed and launched the first trust mark in the cheese industry. The True Cheese seal we created would appear on product packaging to signal the product inside meets or exceeds the standard of identify for the type of cheese, and that the ingredient label is indeed truthful.

Outside testing of products bearing the seal would be done randomly and unannounced by sampling retail products from store shelves – the same products consumers buy. Tests performed by a respected outside third-party laboratory confirmed adherence to the code of Federal regulation and findings were published.

When we launched it was a big media story – about fake Parmesan cheese – that went viral in 72 hours and got sufficient traction in popular culture to prompt the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to feature an entire segment on the adulterated Parmesan cheese development.

Important to note that retailers resonated to the verified trust approach and believed they were better off to stock the real thing than take chances with something that might not be.

What’s the story you’re telling?

Consumers want the truth but understandably are reticent to accept company assertions at face value. Hence the incredible surge of interest in Transparency.

Being transparent means you allow consumers to observe for themselves what goes on behind the corporate curtain in product creation and ingredient sourcing.

Trust marks and seals are shorthand for validation. Standards and testing organizations like NSF.org are gaining traction as companies in food, beverage and lifestyle categories increasingly look for ways to credibly prove the quality story embedded in their products.

Recently Organic Valley and Maple Hill jointly announced the “Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program” to address misleading labeling in the grass-fed dairy products marketplace. The program, unlike others in the organic category, requires a full supply chain verification before qualifying to use the mark.

The strategic linkage in these validation programs and others we predict will come, is recognition that trust is vital to consumers and that assertions aren’t good enough to secure belief. Transparency’s call for openness and clarity, for access and demonstration to be brought to life through various techniques aimed at letting consumers, experts and media in the tent to see for themselves what brands hope they will recognize as truth.

Blockchain to digitize honesty

Perhaps the most significant development to come in the quest for verifiable trust is the advancement of digital solutions that are essentially tamperproof. Blockchain’s great promise is digital ledgers and contracts supported by the deployment of sensors and scanners — and backed by algorithms that monitor and validate every step from the soil to the store. Truth tech that will prove the tomato’s organic and heirloom heritage, its cultivation and harvest, its safe handling and freshness from the ground to store shelf.

Imagine the marketing opportunity that awaits for digitally verified trust… Emergent is following the development of Blockchain technology and is studying its evolution as we seek to stay ahead of Transparency strategies for our clients.

Where are you on the curve to provide these proof points in your marketing strategy?

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.

 

 

 

Tipping the Scale on Emerging Brand Growth

July 12th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emerging brands, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Navigation, Transformation 0 comments on “Tipping the Scale on Emerging Brand Growth”

Writing the new rules of successful marketing

Recently Emergent became an active Mentor partner with the Food Marketing Institute’s Emerge platform. FMI, under the leadership of Julie Pryor and Margaret Core, has created Emerge to help nurture the increasingly important population of up and coming food and beverage brands. These growing businesses are gaining attention of the food buying public and occupy an ever more significant proportion of in-store real estate at food retail.

This new world of emerging brands is evidence of a dramatic shift in consumer preferences for food choices with a creation story founded in higher quality, more artisanal and sustainable attributes. These businesses are often married to a higher purpose that transcends commerce; a purpose aimed at improving the food supply, sustainable farming, battling hunger or some other altruistic commitment that imbues the business with greater meaning.

For our part, we enter the FMI Emerge relationship as Mentors – a resource that new and emerging brands most likely would not have access to until later in their development. The goal is to help scale these businesses more rapidly while avoiding some of the mistakes that can occur early in the fundamentals around marketing, packaging, distribution and channel decisions or innovation.

Reengineering of the food and beverage business

The emerging brand growth engine has attracted the interest of private equity investment and large cap CPG looking to participate in this unique, culturally relevant space. Additionally, retailers interested in leveraging this wave must adopt a new set of best practices to help support these new brands that don’t come to the table with deep-pocket promotion and brand-building budgets.

As the pendulum swings towards marketplace reward for the more entrepreneurial food brand business – where everything about their origins and path follows the beat of a different drummer than legacy CPG food brands – NEW marketing rules must also be considered and executed with commitment to maintain the specialness of these businesses.

What remains true for all participants is an interest in scale. But not scale at any cost. Great care must be exercised in building these brands to make successful expansion a reality in a shorter time span. Wrong moves can violate the very principles that sit underneath why these emerging products got traction in the first place.

Application of old-school marketing technique and thinking can interrupt and disrupt the very important reasons why consumers prefer these up and comers. It’s critical that entrepreneurs maintain the artisanal characteristics of their products which is the very reason consumers are attracted to them in their ongoing treasure hunt for new and more interesting, real food experiences.

What’s changed?

To uncover the right formula for growth, it only makes sense to understand the context that makes these businesses relevant and important to the future of the food and beverage business.

Perhaps fundamental here, is the influence of food culture cues on consumer behavior. At one time taste, price and convenience held sway in defining what consumers want. While taste remains an arbiter of anything that ultimately succeeds, other issues command consumer attention and help pull the purchase lever.

Consumers now look for cultural symbols and lifestyle relevance in the food and beverages they buy for the very reason they believe that higher quality choices help them secure a higher quality life.

Here in sum are some few of the evolutionary changes taking place which these new brands are tapping into:

  • People see food differently: higher quality, real and fresh food = higher quality and healthier lifestyle
  • Cultural markers are advancing around health and wellness, clean eating and cleaner labels, shorter ingredient lists, local sourcing, visibility to supply chain, more unique flavor profiles, even fresh versions of previously processed food ideas
  • The pace of innovation and development of new food ideas has made a quantum leap– from concept to beloved at speed — witness Ripple pea milk and Beyond Meat
  • Radical Innovation = new category creation – this is no longer a story built around line extensions of a legacy brand. Wholesale new categories and reinventions of existing ones are becoming the norm
  • Embracing small-is-good – big used to be reliable, trusted and consistent. Now craftsmanship, ingredient integrity and more culinary-inspired solutions hold sway. Smaller often translates as better quality
  • Mission mentality – what used to be understood as philanthropy has changed to represent a core belief imbedded at the onset of product development that then stretches beyond the product. It is most often anchored in a mission aimed at improving the world around us. Food brands with a true soul, if you will

Mentoring new brands

Perhaps most evident in early stages of emerging brand development are resource constraints that make optimal investments in marketing more difficult.

Yet, it also remains true that superior product experience is most vital to initial sales outcomes. The product itself is the marketing in this respect, and relies heavily on the creation story, higher quality components and more unique formulations to gain ground. Nevertheless, scale is a desired outcome for all involved and thus brand marketing will inevitably become a catalyst.

Challenges for new brands trying to scale:

  • Lack of internal seasoned marketing talent
  • Early mistakes and missteps in packaging, pricing, distribution (channel choice)
  • Inability to fully leverage differentiation in crowded product categories
  • Little to no investments in consumer insight that informs, adds relevance to the story and dials in the messaging
  • Loose, patchwork sales infrastructure
  • Supply chain inefficiencies that layer on cost and depress the ability to invest in consumer-facing communication

These conditions make intermediaries like FMI Emerge so important in growth and development. Larger CPGs and equity investors alike would also benefit from making contributions and resource investments in emerging brands that extend beyond sales and distribution infrastructure.

Emergent: The Bridge to Scale

Our agency, Emergent, is focused on these developing brand opportunities because we believe this is the future of the food and beverage industry, and so we have an obligation to support and address the need for scale on a more rapid trajectory.

To do this we help food, beverage and lifestyle brands successfully navigate the sea change from interruption style, talk-at marketing and communications to a more healthy lifestyle relevant and participatory model.

Here are some examples of appropriate guidance we make to emerging brands and CPGs working to help accelerate the pace of growth:

  • Insight research on core user lifestyle, message testing, innovation assessments
  • Wringing out inefficiencies in cost structures (supply chain) to help fund marketing
  • Improved package design and communication; telegraphing from the shelf
  • More strategic, consumer/lifestyle-relevant earned, owned and social communications assets and programs
  • Developing novel trial-generating programs and product demonstrations

In the end, our offer is a team of experienced marketing, communications and operations talent focused on the unique needs of emerging brands. We eat, live and think Emergent. Our goal with FMI Emerge is to help provide this guidance while the industry continues to transform.

Are you ready?

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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.

 

How to get the very best from your agency partners

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

What do good clients do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The true value of an agency partner

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

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

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

What do agencies want?

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

Agency obligations

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

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

Humanity – the glue that binds

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

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

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

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

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

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