Posts in Transformation

Brands serve as expert advisors on the consumer's journey

Brands are not products, they are stories well told

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

Here is how to tell them powerfully, persuasively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you know what the deeply engaged consumer values?

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the magic?

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

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

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

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

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

The remarkable story is built from WHY

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

The recipe for more compelling story telling is understanding:

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

We are doing business in the age of distinction

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

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

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

People are buying the story first and product second.

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

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

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

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

Here it is:

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

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

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

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

Dr. Lisa Dyson transforms meat industry

Dyson’s Moonshot to Transform Meat Industry

June 30th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, change, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food experiences, Food Trend, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Transformation 0 comments on “Dyson’s Moonshot to Transform Meat Industry”

Air Protein creates first ultra-sustainable proteins

If the pandemic created one positive outcome for Americans, it has been the most potent force in history to elevate the importance of health and wellness to consumers. Already a rising cultural priority, COVID-19 serves as a compelling motivator for people to further invest in their physical health by elevating the quality of what they eat and drink.

Witness the skyrocketing popularity of meatless meat, advanced by first making a product that accurately replicates the taste and eating experience of animal meat but sourced from plants. Survey after survey in the food industry has verified the general growing interest in consuming more plant-based foods because people believe it’s a healthier option. As a result, the alternative meat business is forecasted to reach 40 to 50 percent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry by 2029.

Now on the horizon comes a new company and food-making technology that promises to create the most sustainable meat alternative on earth. Meat that requires no agriculture, no animals and yet delivers a nutritionally superior, complete higher protein product than anything created from a chicken, pig, cow or plant.

A funny thing happened on the way to the moon

During the massive run-up in the 1960s in its bid to put a man on the moon, NASA continuously launched better, bigger spacecraft while another experiment was going on behind the scenes – one that was eventually shelved and forgotten. The premise was based on nourishing astronauts with food that could be created in space, and the tool for this genius idea was carbon transformation. Said more simply, converting carbon dioxide exhaled by the crew into food. Experiments were conducted but eventually pushed aside in favor of other lunar landing priorities.

Pleasanton, CA-based Air Protein, helmed by MIT physicist Dr. Lisa Dyson, is on a new mission to take the carbon transformation ball all the way down the field and put it in the culinary end-zone. “More and more people are starting to consider the harsh reality of our food system as a global contributor to greenhouse gases (GHG) and climate change,” explains Dr. Dyson. “Our agricultural system produces more GHG than all of the fuel-burning sources of transportation combined. When you mix that with the finite limitations of available land and water resources for farms, ranches and fisheries, you know it’s going to be nearly impossible at some point to feed a rapidly growing global population.”

Dyson’s moonshot is a fascinating recipe of uniquely combining carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen with renewable energy, water and nutrients, then adding common microbes in a fermentation process similar to making wine or cheese. The high protein flour outcome of this brewery-like approach is turned into authentic meat analogs by using pressure, temperature and natural flavors. Her sustainable “Air Protein Farm” operates more like a yogurt making facility than meat processor.

While a steak requires two years of dutiful cattle raising that consumes a significant amount of natural resources, Dyson’s ultra-sustainable meat comes to fruition in just four days.

Air Protein’s process helps avoid two current concerns of conventional meat infrastructure revealed during the coronavirus outbreak:

  1. Dangers of meat packing plants becoming hyper-spreader environments for the virus.
  2. The resulting scarcity and higher prices of various meats available to consumers at the grocery.

Alternatively, the Air Protein carbon footprint is negative. All of this becomes more plausible when you consider that carbon chains are the essential building blocks of all fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Scientists refer to carbon as “the backbone of life” because, along with water, it is the primary element that makes up all living things.

Sustainability emerges as part of the path to purchase

People everywhere are experiencing a transformation of their own in adding higher purpose, mission, beliefs and values to the shopping list of what they want from food brands they prefer and purchase. The International Food Information Council in a recent national pandemic-inspired survey of consumer behaviors found the impact of environmental sustainability is on the rise as a priority, with 39% of consumers saying it is now a factor in their buying decisions. More than 40% of respondents said it is important for food makers to have a commitment to sustainability, recognition that people are more aware now of limited natural resources and the effect of society and industry on climate change.

Sustainability practices and behaviors clearly matter to people. Dyson believes Air Protein’s emerging story will be a game-changer at the supermarket meat case where retailers are increasingly on the hunt for brands that fulfill the shoppers’ wishes for sustainable choice.

Climate change became the call to arms

The horrible devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina that claimed more than 1,800 lives and left $125 billion in property damage, much of it in New Orleans when the levees were overcome, served as a Road to Damascus experience for Dr. Dyson. While there she labored to help restore a city overcome by a natural disaster that many assigned to the accelerating menace of hostile weather patterns borne of climate change. Dyson vowed to make solving the rampant build-up of greenhouse gases (GHG) an avocation, leading to a partnership with MIT colleague Dr. John Reed and the eventual genesis of a new company named Kiverdi.

“My experience in New Orleans was life-changing. I decided to develop solutions that would combat climate change. During the years following, it became clear to me that our food system is a major culprit in this unfolding crisis. The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, how to feed everyone sustainably and affordably is the big question we intend to answer,” she said.

The supreme irony of Air Protein is its intention to make food from carbon dioxide. As if meat were to become a new kind of photosynthesis that turns protein creation on its head – not as a contributor to greenhouse gases but also an effective eraser of this global temperature-raising threat. Ultra-sustainable meat may become a center of plate, culinary chess piece to satisfy the appetite while refusing to exact an enormous toll on the environment. That no plants or animals are involved means there is an embedded promise of a high-quality protein source that is generously renewable, kinder to the environment, scaleable and thus plentiful.

The premiumization of palates

Food culture in America has undergone a makeover as the quality of cuisines, ingredients, cooking techniques, kitchen tools and culinary expectations have risen. From the days of Hamburger Helper and Cheese Whiz, people now find themselves eating Michelin star quality cooking at the corner gastro-pub.

The successful strategic gamesmanship of plant-based meat like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, was their insightful move not to make an improved Vegan burger for Vegans. Rather, to deliver an alternative that could satisfy the sensory, gustatory preferences of the most ardent meat lovers. In doing so, these companies reimagined veggie burgers as plant-based protein, opening a new chapter in food where taste trade-off to achieve better-for-you was not required.

This feat is not lost on Air Protein founder Dr. Dyson. With consumers moving rapidly to embrace alternative meat, she sees Air Protein’s probiotic production tech as the next generation category. She has chefs working alongside food science experts to ensure that deliciousness is right there with the heaping tablespoon of ‘feel good’ about not harming the environment with every forkful of her chicken made without the chicken. “We are tuned in to the requirement that our products must deliver on the taste, flavor and eating experience of animal meat, the plant-based hamburgers have shown that when you hit the eating experience squarely, the purchases will follow and repeat,” she said.

The next generation of meatless meat is coming

Who knew that exhaling combined with microbes could build a protein? It took NASA to start the ball rolling and Dr. Dyson and her team to hit the three-point basket at the buzzer. “Because our protein production process requires no farm, no agricultural input or animal, our ability to scale is not governed by supply chain conditions. The COVID-19 influenced meat shortages we’ve seen remind everyone that the food system as we know it can be compromised. We’re excited because our game-changing technology can create a reliable, sustainable supply of meat products that are better for you and infinitely better for the planet at the same time,” she said. Context provides dramatic proof: Dyson says it would take a farm the size of Texas to produce the same amount of meat Air Protein can deliver from a production facility as small as the footprint of Disneyland.

Air Protein is a category-defining company now in the midst of an equity capital raise and expects this round to provide the required assets to take the last lap to commercialization and retail launch. “What’s exciting here is our cost base to produce meat. We will be able to market our products at an affordable price, which in this economy will be important. Our goal one day will be to help economically feed the world from the platform we’re building now,” reports James D. White, Executive Chairman of Air Protein, and former CEO and President of Jamba (formerly Jamba Juice Company).

This dynamic duo believes Air Protein will eventually become the reference standard for ultra-sustainable meat.

Can’t wait to try her chicken at the corner grocery with a salad. One day you’ll probably find it on the moon.

Editorial note: Emergent extends our thanks and appreciation to Dr. Lisa Dyson and James White for participating in this important story.

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

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

It’s About Storytelling – Not Story-YELLING

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

The five essential guideposts to successful brand communication

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

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

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

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

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

Brands must become trusted sources and resources

The relationship brands build with consumers must evolve.

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

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

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

Five guideposts to effective brand communication

  1. Relevance

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

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

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

  1. Social influence

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

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

  1. Reciprocity

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

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

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

  1. Emotional intelligence

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

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

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

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

  1. Authenticity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consumers carre deeply about their health and wellness

Consumer Health is the New Wealth

April 15th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, Restaurant trends, Transformation 0 comments on “Consumer Health is the New Wealth”

Cultural shift impacts marketing strategy

Your marketing planning and strategic game plan will need to change to maintain relevance as the global pandemic creates a seismic cultural shift in how people behave and how successful relationships are formed between brands, retailers and consumers.

Here’s what you need to know about the basis of these transformative differences and their impact on your strategic communication plans.

The pandemic has served as the world’s greatest and most impactful, harrowing lesson on vulnerability. Regardless of age, income, career or social status, COVID-19 has reached into every corner of society to show that a highly contagious, invisible disease can move quickly and freely to impact every aspect of social and family life, career, health and wellbeing.

  • According to a recent survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, more than one-third of Americans say the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.

Economic disruption, societal upheaval and social isolation have generated lasting deviations in how people behave – working to permanently alter life priorities and preferences. What people cared about in December of 2019 is radically different today and isn’t likely to subside in the future.

What was once important is less so now

The accumulation of assets and material wealth as evidence, goals or symbols of life success and fulfillment have fallen away, replaced by health and wellbeing as the new marker of desired “wealth” and personal success.

Anxiety, stress and loss of control have also created an open opportunity for brands and businesses to be a source of credible guidance on more mindful living, and reasserting lifestyle control with investments in personal health and wellness. It cannot be understated: the foundation of brand building is moving away from a transactional approach sewn into the fabric of marketing thinking for the last 50 years. It is resettling now on the requirement to create deeper meaning and a more personally-relevant, useful brand value proposition.

Simply said, you’re going to have to genuinely care deeply, organizationally, about the health and wellbeing of your customers and consider how the brand can contribute to improving their lives. This may sound like a water is wet statement, but in truth, it is an entirely different way of looking at the brand-to-purchaser relationship.

Moving from features, benefits and price cuts to empathy and care

Repeatedly stating ‘we’re in this with you’ isn’t sufficient. Brand and business behaviors must match the cultural shift to managing health and wellness – and operate in sync with how consumers are living and how their needs have morphed.

Higher purpose marketing is first about valuing the customer relationship in a different way. We can define it as putting the brand and business ‘in league’ with the consumer on their life journey, looking for ways to be of tangible value as they seek answers to some significant questions about how they should live and what the future holds.

This more empathetic view of how to communicate should be based in ongoing, continual investments in consumer insight research, designed to assess their attitudes and concerns in a downside of the curve and eventually post-pandemic world. When the brand is able to accurately mirror consumers’ views and desires, the opportunity for relevance is secured, and permission for a conversation is earned. ‘Talking at’ people about features and benefits is a sure pathway to disconnect because it casts the brand as hero of the storytelling rather than the consumer – who must be the hero in all brand outreach.

Data underscores the shifts in behavior

According to a recent national survey by Bernstein, nearly 60% of consumers report a surge in scratch cooking at home.

  • 35% say they care deeply about their wellbeing.
  • 30% say they plan to eat more healthfully.
  • 38% are looking for real food ingredients and packaged products with simple labels.

In fact, the study reported that health and wellness is on the rise as a key consideration when people shop for food. Consumers say they will increase consumption of vegetables, fruits and other fresh foods, while they reduce purchases of highly processed products and foods that are high in fat, sugar, carbs and salt. The current spike in sales of processed packaged foods is likely to be short-lived. Consumers post-pandemic will worry less about emergency stock-ups and instead turn their attention to managing their own health and wellbeing.

In a related study by AMC Global and reported in Food Navigator, 52% are increasing their use of online grocery shopping platforms, and 25% say they expect to continue using online channels after the restrictions are lifted.

  • 38% plan to more fully support local businesses and product sources.
  • 32% expect to continue cooking more meals at home.
  • 35% intend post-pandemic to spend more time with their families.

Post-pandemic planning insights

For food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers, health and wellbeing should be a centerpiece in your messaging strategy and given consideration as a focus of content creation strategies. It is the most important and viable way for consumers to regain control of their lives, and to address what is now one of the most significant concerns they have: protecting themselves and their families from immune system vulnerabilities, while enhancing their comfort and wellbeing.

A more holistic view of health and wellness should factor in stress and anxiety as a key component in healthy living strategies by offering guidance and information on ways to cope. Meditation and exercise can be an important way for consumers to administer self-care and address the uncertainty they continue to face in their lives.

The dynamic in how brand relationships are created will increasingly be based on reciprocity and operating in a manner that demonstrates the consumer’s welfare is a top priority, thus why transparency and trust creation will need to be addressed in communication and operations strategy.

The forced changes in routine home food preparation arising from the stay-at-home order, is likely to be permanent as consumers experience the benefits of exercising greater control over ingredients, portions and preparations. Brands should be working hard to operate as guide, coach and inspiration for aspiring home chefs who want to hone their skills and feed their creativity. Equally so for home-based exercise and fitness activities.

The pivot by foodservice operators to offer meal kits, groceries and culinary advice, is also likely to be a lasting business model change for the restaurant industry. Which brings us to the growing importance of the home as a centerpiece for social interaction, safety and security and now a place of work. This will favor digital-first thinking and enhance the value of media consumed online and at home.

E-commerce channel is going to get more and more use as the systems improve and the friction in ordering and accurate, timely delivery is removed. Brick and mortar retail will have to strategically shift to facilitate a more seamless experience in omni-channel shopping behaviors. The importance of web site and email marketing should rise as consumers increasingly look for helpful, valuable engagement rather than access to what is at most self-promotional or least an online brochure.

The efforts you make to invest in building social channel communities will get more productive as the brand voice moves further from self-promotion and more fully into offering useful lifestyle guidance and direction. This will facilitate a more interactive environment and encourage consumers to share their own stories, interests and concerns. Social proof is a vital part of creating belief and credibility with your best users and attracting new fans to the brand. If you want to attract to new fans to the brand, you need to start by being a fan of theirs!

Finally, people believe other people more than they do corporate voices. To the extent you are engaging outside third-party voices in brand communication, you have the opportunity to humanize the brand and create more authentic messaging. In fact, building a more human-like brand is a critical component to acquiring trust. Great care should be exercised in how paid influencers are deployed as the consumer increasingly sees these voices as compromised and less trusted.

Emergent is an expert resource to help you develop post-pandemic plans and strategies.

  • Do you need support in consumer insight research to help inform your planning?
  • Would guidance be helpful on building optimal messaging strategies and content creation programs?
  • Would it be of benefit to have a creative resource help think through the evolutionary changes that will be required in how you go to market?

Let us know if you would like to talk informally about what comes next.

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.

Building Trust in the Midst of Fear

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

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

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

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

Keep Calm and Carry On

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

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

Lemonade from lemons

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

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

Salve for Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

People want to share and engage with each other

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

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

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

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

Marketing Strategy: Different Beats Best

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

Category creation is the path to sustainable growth

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

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

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

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

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

Are brands merely a list of features and benefits?

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Create a new category everyone else is blind to

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

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

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

  1. Create a lifestyle brand

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

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

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

  1. Change focus and the conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Change the reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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