Posts in Transparency

The barrier to climate investment is fear

What is the biggest barrier to sustainability investments?

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

…It isn’t the supply chain or manufacturing

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

The word is fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability may now be the most popular term in modern marketing

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

Fear of change

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

Fear of risk

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

Fear of truth

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

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

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine…

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

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

How can this be true?

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

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

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

In a sentence: sustainability is good for business.

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

Is this going to be expensive for our economy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honesty about what's on offer is vital to trust

Nothing is More Important to Brand Trust Than Honesty, Integrity

July 15th, 2021 Posted by brand messaging, Brand trust, Insight, media relations, Navigation, Public Relations, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Nothing is More Important to Brand Trust Than Honesty, Integrity”

Your brand value lives in equal proportion to its transparency

Sadly, we report today that a beloved brand in the meat industry, Belcampo is mired in scandal over a shocking revelation that this paragon of sustainably-raised livestock finds itself caught in a web of deceit now exposed for all to see.

Belcampo was in many respects a beautifully, artfully created story of ethics, values and transparency that promised a better way to raise beef, wrapped in an aura of authenticity and deeper meaning. Emergent, so enamored with the brand virtues we saw unfold, reached out a number of times a few years ago to express our interest in helping build their brand. To no avail, but we retained such deep respect for how the vertical integration of their farm-to-door story was assembled with such skill and emotional resonance.

Now a whistle-bearing employee in Belcampo’s Santa Monica, CA retail store has blown the doors open to reveal in a see-it-with-your-own-eyes Instagram video that Belcampo had been deceiving customers. They were selling beef supplied by general meat counter quality distributors that was not organic, not grass-fed, and importantly not sourced from Belcampo’s ranch near Mt. Shasta. The employee states his apology for having lied to customers for two and a half years so he could keep his job.

Belcampo’s high prices reflects its origin story and so the deception was not only of product quality but overcharging for same. The video, complete with scanning labeled cases in the meat locker was unshakeable in its revelation. The company’s response was an amalgam of middling apology, claims of ignorance, attempts to minimize, and then downplay what is a fracture in the brand reputation.

Belcampo would be well-advised to end the spin and instead lean into 100% transparency no matter how painful that might be.

Honesty and Integrity are Immutable Laws

What do we have in our hands at the end of the day but trust granted by people who believe what brands say, and who endeavor to make decisions on the veracity of the brand’s stated claims. Brand trust has been in decline for decades and it is incidents like this that serve to reinforce the “I told you so” of why consumers find it difficult to accept the assertions of commitment or values proffered by businesses.

When profit and self-interest overtake the priority to operate in service of the customer’s welfare and wellbeing, brand reputations can be squandered. All of the years of story and build on a masterful idea at Belcampo, impugned in a most surgical way by someone looking to end the guilt.

Now is the time to renew our vows, to recalibrate and reconsider the respectfulness we grant to hold consumer relationships dear. All of us, all brands live in glass houses. Anything that can be known, will be known. Thus the immutable laws of how brands operate should be held steadfast even when the P&L is on fire during times of trouble such as the Pandemic.

For commodities like meat or fish or anything else sold fresh, this is especially true. Trust is held by the seller to convey that what is on offer is genuine. Of course, the higher the pedestal on which a brand sits, the steeper the fall should the rules of truthful engagement be violated.

The concept of enforced trust – Blockchain

For years now we’ve been reporting periodically on Blockchain technology as an enormous opportunity for brands to author a new chapter in brand trust, forever changing the path to market from farm to fork.

Blockchain’s great promise is an algorithm-based system that through the use of sensors and monitors and digital ledgers can authenticate every claim made by a brand back to the ranch or soil. It irrevocably marks the details of what a product is, how it is raised or farmed, when it was harvested, what happened during processing and transport – all the way to the store or restaurant.

The beauty of this technology is it cannot be manipulated by people along the path. Instead, it serves as a form of enforced trust that guarantees the truth from beginning to end sale. Imagine what it would be like to tell a story like that. For the retailer or restaurant, you know confidently what happened on the path from farm to back door on handling, temperatures and length of time. If it’s grass fed and grass finished Angus beef, you will know it with certainty.

We hope this technology will someday be widely adopted. As marketers we can see the powerful stories that can be created around it that will change the relationship consumers have with brands. It is inspiring in many ways. If we were advising Belcampo, it would be to get the Blockchain team in as soon as possible.

We can only hope.

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.

Collab to solve climate threat

Announcing the First Real Answer to Climate and Brand Sustainability Challenges

June 25th, 2021 Posted by brand strategy, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, change, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Consumer insight, Food Trend, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Higher Purpose, retail brand relevance, Sustainability, Transparency 0 comments on “Announcing the First Real Answer to Climate and Brand Sustainability Challenges”

How to successfully address sustainability demands for food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers

Food, beverage and lifestyle categories are ground zero in a major culture shift now underway. It will redefine the meaning of sustainability and recast the value proposition for nearly every brand and retailer in the business.

The rapid arrival of a new consumer culture shift demands greater accountability on climate impact and verifiable solutions to greenhouse gas threats. New research confirms not only is this a priority for consumers on the path to purchase, it also has a direct impact on food, beverage and lifestyle brand and retailer growth outcomes. 

Are you prepared – ready to embrace the sea change and reap the rewards from operating consistently with consumer attitude and preference shifts on sustainability?

Download our new report on the first Brand Sustainability Solution. Learn what the future looks like and how to solve the challenges ahead for your brand and business.

FREE DOWNLOAD HERE OF THE BRAND SUSTAINABILITY REPORT

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.

Credibility and Partnerships Lead Marketing Success

June 3rd, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, Brand trust, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital disruption, Earned media, Influencers, Partnerships, Programmatic, Retargeting, Social media, Social proof, Transparency 0 comments on “Credibility and Partnerships Lead Marketing Success”

Decline of digital advertising reflects consumer trust implosion

If there’s one true north to guide marketing best practices in the era of consumer control, it is this: never lose sight of the human being you wish to court and retain as a user. According to global market research firm Ipsos, 69 percent of consumers no longer trust advertising, especially digital forms. Why has digital advertising fallen so hard and fast? A combination of algorithm driven pummeling that makes the entire experience annoying, followed by the rise of ad blindness (your ad is scenery and nothing more) and blockers, amplified by general decline of brand trust as consumers instead seek out verifiable and credible independent sources for guidance on which products to buy.

What lies at the base of conventional ad solutions is the absence of any real relationship- creating mechanism. So we ask the defining question – does acquiring awareness constitute the driver of a reliable, meaningful consumer-to-brand relationship? The answer is a resounding NO. Buying perceived digital engagement is a false promise. There are better and more effective ways to build business. Hold on while we take you to a new way of thinking, planning and operating.

We have entered a new era in marketing powered by earning authentic relationships with consumers built on trust. This new paradigm is fueled through creating authentic, personal, helpful, useful, valuable content. In this article we will reveal the formula for real connection, real relationships that deliver growth and retention of highly engaged brand fans and ambassadors.

First, we will explain how a digital ad frenzy led to rapid expansion of online ad spending, now tracking a downward spiral as consumers run as fast as they can away from it.

Digital ad magic and stars in marketers’ eyes

Perhaps the most impressive point about the emergence of digital advertising was the newfound ability to measure clicks to assess engagement outcomes. Followed closely by the deployment of cookies to track online behaviors and thus work to tie impressions to conversions.

For the gardening products brand, instead of buying 100 million impressions from Home and Garden that may include consumers who don’t have any affinity for gardening, you could intentionally focus on buying 100 million impressions aimed at avid horticulture fans. Sounds enticing and so we’re off to the digital races.

New types of intrusion emerge

The arrival of programmatic tech to unleash algorithm-sourced buying brought automation to precision audience and behavioral targeting. Retargeting permitted advertisers to follow consumers around the Internet like a persistent stalker. In the midst of this evolution cost declines led to a rapid fire, constant drumbeat of repetitive ad interruptions. Now you see me and now you see me again, and over here, and there and everywhere. Don’t you love me? Nope, sorry.

People live their lives online to acquire three things: information, entertainment and social connection. E-commerce serves alongside to digitize transactions and satisfy the ultra-convenience opportunity of armchair consumption. That said no one wants to be bombarded constantly with disruptive ads and popups.

Apple nails the consumer sentiment towards tracking and disruption!

Consumer-led backlash follows rapid rise of social proof

According to eMarketer, consumer trust in digital ads has dropped to 38 percent. A Hubspot analysis reveals that only 7 percent of consumers say they intentionally click on a digital ad while 34 percent say any click on a banner ad was a mistake.

The antidote to digital disruption and interruption is the emergence of user-generated testimonial content – said another way, users who help users with first-hand reports of experiences and assessments of products and services. Alongside this development is the expansion of category experts, subject matter professionals and influential tastemakers who are speaking on behalf of brands in a more authentic and humanized voice.

Independent social proof is respected by consumers for the very reason they trust the voices of peers before they will believe the assertions and claims of digital ads and brand self-promotion. Social channels can be an amazing, powerful, effective resource for advocacy and ambassadorship when managed with an eye towards encouraging user sharing.

Too often these days social is deployed as another broadcast channel for product promotion rather than cultivating a community of like-minded people who share their own experiences and outcomes. Social can be a far more credible and believable mechanism to validate what you want consumers to trust and understand about your products. You just have to be intentional in how that channel resource is developed.

The new marketing eco-system built on trust

There are four key pillars to successful marketing outcomes at a time when attempting to buy awareness through conventional ad platforms is falling away. They include:

  1. Marketing partnerships: B-to-B colabs, media-driven content alliances and influencers
  2. Social channel refinement: engaging passionate advocates as UGC ambassadors
  3. Earned media: PR-driven outreach through editorial media channels
  4. Branded content creation: built on an education-centric model, not a promotional one.

Partnerships fuel brand growth

  • Partnerships with aligned brands work because they add value to the consumer experience and make intuitive sense. When Quantas Airlines and Airbnb team up to “Fly there. Live there.” they combine assets that create a seamless traveler experience. Similarly Spotify aligns with Ticketmaster to amplify the fan experience from digital music to live performances with click-thru simplicity. These combinations work because they are complementary, sensible and add user value.
  • Right now the triopoly of Facebook, Google and Amazon together control 90 percent of digital advertising inside their walled gardens. As a result premium media channels are cultivating and expanding their content partnership opportunities with brands to build podcasts, newsletters, videos and other tools. These colabs allow brands to gain access to their audiences and tell stories with the imprimatur of the media brand alongside yours.
  • Influencers are a valuable resource of endorsement from citizen category experts who bring their audiences to the table for colabs and reviews. Fabletics activewear brand partners with lifestyle influencer Marla Catherine. The brand accesses her 1.6 million subscriber YoutTube channel to connect fitness fashion endorsements to their online shop platform. A win and a win.

There are rules here with respect to vetting influencers that make strategic sense and align with your brand – all based on building trust and relevant connections with consumers.

Social channel strategy

Brands should encourage user sharing of content and experiences. Developing an ambassador program that links back to periodic content creation helps ensure a flow of useful, credible posts that tell the brand story through the eyes of enthusiastic believers. Amplify this with category expert voices and content that offers guidance, coaching and instruction. Yes, there’s room for your BOGO promo but that should not be the leading voice in your social channel calendar.

Earned media

Editorial coverage of your brand takes advantage of the consumer’s belief that editorial media is an unbiased third-party channel that reports more than advocates. HBO satirist John Oliver recently took TV chat show and news programs to task for fake editorial segments that were paid for and passed along scurrilous information to viewers about unreliable products. Frankly, this pollution of church and state type separation between ad and editorial isn’t good for anyone.

Branded content creation

The voice of your brand should be founded on a relationship-building platform that emphasizes coaching, guidance and enablement that’s relevant to the consumer’s lifestyle journey. YETI coolers does this beautifully with outdoor adventure videos that mirror the lifestyle interests of their core users via compelling, authentic even cinematic storytelling. If you are a food brand and can help users with exploration and creativity in the kitchen, you have a useful voice in their lives. This is how relationships are built – through help over hype.

Trust is the anchor

In a world devoid of trust, consumers want to connect with sources of information and guidance that puts their best interests first, is centered around credible voices (their own) and provides value that enhances their experiences. If you devote energy and attention to cultivating this trust forward marketing eco-system, you will be on the path to authentic, sustainable relationship creation. The outcome is reliable engagement, connection and importantly, sustainable business growth.

So stop chasing eyeballs and start winning hearts!

If this post inspires you to consider fresh thinking on creating more effective marketing outreach, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

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

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

New concept in pet brand building: kitchens

Will Pet Brands Stop Resisting Differentiation?

October 28th, 2020 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Differentiation, engagement, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, shopper behavior, storytelling, Transparency 0 comments on “Will Pet Brands Stop Resisting Differentiation?”

How to punch above your weight and win

When shopping the aisles of a pet food store you’ve likely noticed an amazing array of new brand players on one hand, and on the other difficulty distinguishing anything truly unique between the options. Blurry at best as the protein percentage wars rage everywhere around you.

Pet care is a robust and growing business that works to float all brand boats. For now at least.

  • More pet-owning households than ever
  • More adoptions from rescue centers
  • More puppies and kittens at home
  • More mouths to feed

Even in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession the growth record is notably positive.

That said what happens when you reach a competitive tipping point as the number of brands multiplies (supply) while vying for a piece of the current volume and dollar pie (demand)? Right there, strategic best practices highly recommend nurturing true brand differentiation in the eyes of the consumer. When differences are marginal though, then what?

Read on…

This challenge gets to the heart of pet care brand conditions, a business personified by its Low Differentiation and High Durability traits among category participants. This is a healthy business ripe for disruption – when the right moves are made.

Understanding pet brand category behaviors

How is it that so many pet brands are holding firm right now?

The size of the pie is expanding. Brands that are similar to each other while exhibiting staying power are all playing by familiar rules – at least until an innovator comes along and changes the playbook.

A landscape of comparable brands with parallel nutritional claims and ingredient stories, arguing for advantage in the margins, is a living example of:

  • A study in brand incrementalism
  • Marginally better quality to the winners in each segment
  • Pricing that stays in the segment frame, forcing choice on other more subjective cues
  • A curious tit-for-tat marketplace where brands monitor and react quickly to copy competitor moves (ancient grains anyone?)
  • Where staying in the competition is more important than distinguishing the brand as a unique star player

Premium kibble is kibble for the most part, although every brand understandably claims to be nutritionally superior to their equivalent price-point neighbor. That said, the language used to convey better or best bears remarkable sameness brand to brand.

Looking for marketplace advantage

When you work hard to create and earn high buyer value, the end result makes competition increasingly irrelevant. Where the pet business is generally a ground game of less differentiated brands, the sweet spot of disrupting category conventions is secured by moving from lower to higher differentiation.

Achieving greater uniqueness can happen when focused sharply on a marketplace buyer segment – a specific type of customer, where the brand strives to be hyper relevant and meaningful to a lifestyle cohort. Take for instance the consumer pursuing a health and wellness lifestyle, where the importance placed on the quality of what you eat is directly related to their perceived quality of life.

Inevitably, this consumer will transfer that same viewpoint to their pet food choices. While one could say wellness is the province of raw food brands, even there, the word raw has been democratized throughout the category in slightly de-tuned versions such as freeze-dried toppers, chunks and kibble inclusions.

Channel as a disruptive idea

Just Food For Dogs (JFFD) based in Irvine, CA has found a way to re-think the path to market.

Their model involves free-standing retail kitchens that make fresh pet food on premise, a concept optimized for higher income zip codes where the cost per pound is less important to the perceived nutritional upgrade in a freshly-prepared diet. The opportunities for customization to specific pet needs is remarkable and embedded in this concept.

Company President Carey Tischler explained this is the beginning of a national expansion: “our kitchens are an incredibly effective means of showing, not just telling, pet parents how we are different – and how fresh, whole-food can change their pets’ lives. With nine open-to-the-public kitchens serving pet parents today, and several more kitchens under consideration for 2021, our national expansion is already well underway,” he said.

Human food ingredients re-purposed for pet food recipes

Their Chicago kitchen entry now under construction sits cheek-to-jowl with the city’s largest, most progressive and well-known pet rescue The PAWS Foundation – a virtual mini-industry in moving abandoned or stray pets to new homes. Ahem, that’s new food-seeking pet owners. Across the street is Petco, a retailer that is stocking a shelf-stable packaged version of Just Foods For Dogs pet food.

Is JFFD a retail pet food kitchen company with an aligned packaged business to serve consumers where no retail kitchen exists? Or a packaged pet foods company with a unique retail kitchen extension that serves as marketplace theater and demonstration of their fresh food ethos?

Shelf stable versions of fresh recipes

“We view our business as a direct-to-consumer ecosystem,” Tischler reports, “and manage it as such – with each channel supported by our Certified Nutrition Consultants. The kitchens are a critical part of the business model, but they work in concert with our pantries (store-in-store concept) and online offering. We have a lot of evidence these channels are synergistic and effectively support each other, driving brand awareness and offering convenience to pet parents.”

Freshly made pet foods from the kitchen

In response to pandemic impacts, Tischler says the company is leaning into curb-side pickup at their kitchen locations or home delivery through third-party providers.

What’s interesting about this approach is its relevance to a like-minded consumer who sees higher food quality as verified by the fresh ingredients and preparation techniques used to preserve nutritional density. The very same food preferences they apply to themselves can now be delivered to their pet in a Chipotle-like store setting. At the very least, it’s a disruptive idea.

  • Of note, we think Just Food For Dogs has a significant opportunity to weigh in on transparency, ingredient sourcing and food standards to further enhance their nutritional credibility story, although we haven’t seen that manifest as yet. Transparency is a unique point of competitive advantage in an industry where it’s largely a missed opportunity.

Just Food For Dogs is a marvelous study in innovation around a category governed mostly by conventional extruded solutions.

In mainstream retail FreshPet presents an interesting twist on packaged products and certainly deserves the growth they’ve experienced. However, we believe even more can be done to separate and elevate brands above the forest of sameness. Differentiation operates to attract a cohort of engaged, enthusiastic fans who have a deeper, emotional connection to the brand that is stronger, frankly, than a reason to buy focused on protein percentages.

Zig when everyone else zags

In the last seven months the pandemic has served as the most important personal priority- shifting mechanism of the last 30 years, advancing the importance of health and wellness to sheer survival. Taking care of your immune system is now a clarion example of how consumers reassert some control over their lives in an uncontrollable societal and environmental setting.

We’ve characterized this as Health is the New Wealth. Yet this development has not translated fully to pet food.

Pet lifestyle is a real thing. We believe there are ample numbers of households that operate daily around the pet-to-parent dynamic. A consumer insight-savvy brand could embrace a lifestyle platform that rises over the ubiquitous discussion of human-grade proteins and fresh vegetables ingredient trope. It would be a ‘zig’ to emerge above the endless chatter about real meat, chicken or fish and tag the emotional equation of what higher quality pet food is intended to do: The quality of the food provided is the ultimate expression of love for furry family members.

Addressing and leveraging consumer lifestyle affords a much deeper conversation on topics more relevant and resonant to the pet food buyer than food science and dietary claims. It’s also inherently an emotional construct, key to engagement and message impact.

Pandemic and purpose-based brand building

COVID-19 has operated to refocus people on their beliefs, purpose and societal values that contribute tangibly to the greater good. These considerations are influencing brand preference and purchase. Up to this point organic ingredients haven’t been widely employed outside of a handful of pet brands. The word sustainability continues in some respects as a form of check-the-box afterthought invoked like a Whole30 label certification.

Organic is really about farming methods more friendly to the environment and less damaging to our climate. Sustainability, likewise, can be viewed optically as regenerative agriculture practices that if widely adopted could help turn farmland into the world’s largest carbon sink.

These ideas can be repackaged as a move to address carbon footprint, playing a decisive role in managing the existential threat of climate change on our future wellbeing. Could this become an embedded mission for a pet food brand? We think so. Pet food is a very big user of feedlot meat and agricultural ingredients that in a larger sense of their production are among the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas on the planet.

  • Carbon footprint is starting to show up now on select human food labels. We believe this is the start of a major trend. It will be interesting to see how it translates in pet food marketing.

Whether it’s channel and business model differentiation, a switch to lifestyle marketing and communication, or embracing a mission around climate change, each of these ideas represents a potential new tool in the standard go-to-market toolbox.  Concepts that were popularized in recent years by premiumization of the pet food business and the dawn of popular grain-free formulation claims.

The latter became a herd-like move. We observed most premium brands quickly shifting to emphasize the ancestral diet blueprint.

  • Yet this becomes the very reason to consider a strategic move towards greater differentiation not less. If supporting high buyer value – moving past common ingredient stories – makes your competition less relevant wouldn’t you seriously consider it?

We know this is hard. It feels risky. It sounds like bucking category norms. Will the consumer react well to it? Of note, consumer interest is a testable proposition. In what is mostly a sea of sameness, clear observable brand distinction can be a highly prized and leverageable asset.

If exploring new thinking and fresh ideas sounds like a good conversation to have, we welcome the opportunity to think with you. Use this link to open what could be a very interesting and rewarding 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.

Consumers work to avoid risk in all of their purchase decisions

Marketing Effectiveness Depends on Respect for Human Behavior

August 20th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, Social media, Transparency 0 comments on “Marketing Effectiveness Depends on Respect for Human Behavior”

Three ways to overcome marketing’s biggest challenge: risk avoidance

For many years marketing communication was not sufficiently informed by behavioral psychology and a deep understanding of how humans prefer one product or retailer over another. Brand campaigns were hit and miss, sometimes landing on the right note or idea and in other instances failing to create any real engagement. Do you know with 100 percent confidence if your brand communication is wired properly for human effectiveness? Read on.

What lies at the foundation of disconnects and misfires?

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of my former employer Ogilvy & Mather said it best in his precedent-setting book on the subject, Alchemy: “It is thinking without thinking that we are thinking.” Every human is hardwired to dodge perceived risk. Our purchase behaviors are 100 percent driven by trying to avoid making a bad decision. As Sutherland describes so accurately, “a 1 percent chance of nightmare dwarfs a 99 percent chance of a 5 percent gain.”

And perhaps most important, it is the sub-conscious side of the human brain that informs these decisions and actions, not the rational and learning side that is frankly, lazy, and defaults to the far smarter area of the brain that is operating at greater capacity below our conscious awareness.

More than a few brand minders think marketing effectiveness is resolved by providing logical, fact-based evidence and arguments for why a product or service is the best choice. It is, afterall, a convenient way to answer the company desire to self-promote new innovations and technologies.  Yet again, humanity steps in to deny those assumptions for the very reason people are not analytical, fact-driven decision-making machines. Complicated messaging that taxes the consumer brain remains an unwitting invitation to tuning out entirely. This kind of outreach is directed to the learning area of our mind that reflexively seeks to avoid burning mental calories and, thus, simply ignores it.

  • Imagine for a moment if you could fully dial in the psychological keys to engagement and position your marketing communication correctly to respect what we now know about how people behave and will continue to behave until the end of time.

So powerful is the motivation to avoid unpleasant surprises that people resort to a variety of risk-mitigating behaviors on the path to purchase.

The Power of Uncertainty

At this point you may observe in stark relief why it is so important to access the knowledge and skills of strategic and creative craftspeople to build your brand story. Ironically the logical, rational argument is often the least effective. Powerful communication does not always follow the linear path of a + b = c. While Emergent might describe itself as a marketing communications firm, in reality we are Behavioral Messaging Architects.

  • Wine tastes better when poured from a heavier bottle.
  • Pain relievers are more effective when people believe they are expensive.
  • Anything in scarce supply immediately becomes more desirable.

We live in an uncertain world. At any given time there is limited trustworthy information available to people. Yet consumers crave the illusion of certainty and so are uniquely drawn to signals of honest intent. This works effectively because it lowers the chance of a purchase decision being disappointing.

Humans are famous for claiming to be rational thinkers when in reality their actions and decisions are influenced through perceptions, emotional cues, and visual signals of trust and integrity. In our daily vigil to avoid unpleasant surprises people resort to cues that help resolve their requirement for certainty.

  • The real function of earned media strategy is risk mitigation. When products are vetted in credible examination by third-parties, people believe the claims are verified through an independent source. Not so much the words as the source, context and environment in which the words appear.
  • Even more important is social proof and word of mouth for the very reason that people believe other people before they accept the assertions and claims made by a business. More on this later.
  • Wisdom of crowds is simply that. If a product is perceived to be popular and used satisfactorily by many then likely it won’t be terrible.

Why has transparency surged as a viable path to better brand relationships? Because at its core, the act of being transparent is a demonstrable, visible move to embrace honesty and thus remove risk. Transparency has real leverage attached to it because it helps solve the uncertainty faced by consumers each and every day.

We did this to great effect for Champion Petfoods (makers of Orijen and ACANA brands), creating the pet food industry’s first Transparency Council as a platform to build independent assessments of truth and honesty about how Champion made their pet food and sourced their ingredients. Important here was the symbolism and trust signal created by the Council’s very existence and a regular calendar of content produced that leaned heavily into validating through observation what Champion promises. It was a bold move at the right time.

Overcoming DNA-embedded risk avoidance

If risk perception stands between your brand and its future growth prospects, it only makes sense to work hard at mitigating it. It’s important to note here that rational arguments aren’t going to succeed. Signals of honest intent and credible voices however can be enormously effective.

Let’s begin by unwrapping the two secrets to effective messaging:

First, people do not buy things, they purchase meaning and context. What are you giving them that imbues your brand with a higher purpose and thus a purchase takes on greater meaning as a visible symbol of their values and beliefs?

Second, the hero of your storytelling isn’t the brand. It is the consumer; their wants, needs, passions, concerns and desires, with the brand positioned as coach and expert advisor on their life journey. Don’t compete with the consumer for the hero role! Said another way, talk about them more than yourself.

Three ways to overcome risk

1. Perhaps most important is understanding the end goal is cultivating trustworthiness. How can your company and brand humanize itself and mirror the very best qualities people look for in those they implicitly trust?

Those qualities include:

Empathy

Care

Responsiveness

Unselfishness

Openness

Truthfulness

Being strong enough to admit mistakes

Actions speak much louder than words, so the question here is how does the company operationalize and behave in a manner that respects these principles and assures they are held in high regard by employees.

2. Enlisting the voices of outside, independent, objective observers and experts to validate your promises and claims. This may sound like an analytical approach, but the devil is in the details of how this is done. The symbolism of allowing others to report is a significant move. What is reported on matters – your responsiveness, humanity, caring, truth-telling and unselfish acts are far more persuasive than your technology, recipe, formulation and production prowess.

Embedding a higher purpose in how the company operates and its reason for being will go a long way to informing this approach fully and successfully. You can read about Harnessing the Power of Purpose in greater detail here.

3.  Social proof and user-generated content (UGC) are the twin social media strategies that work to take risk out and replace it with believable evidence of performance and satisfaction. Trust in brands and corporations have been in decline for years.

This is why social channel strategy and encouraging user-generated content is so vital on the path to risk abatement. The honest, unscripted accounts of experiences and outcomes from real people are testament to what you want others to believe about the benefits of using your product or shopping your store.

When Emergent goes to work on creating a messaging platform for a client brand, we focus on purpose, cause, context, deeper meaning, emotion and effect. We look for visual signals that flag honest intent for the very reason we know these characteristics and words are more powerful than fact-based stories.

It is difficult to accept that humans are not rational and logical players in your marketplace. However, once this is understood and embraced, a whole new world of repeatable effectiveness is ushered into the marketing plan for the very reason it is built on real respect for the human we wish to serve.

If you would like to discuss in greater detail how this applies to your brand or store, 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.

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