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When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen

February 20th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transparency 0 comments on “When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen”

Create a movement or sell features and benefits?

Consumers are masters now of recognizing traditional marketing tactics and opting out to avoid communication that comes across as self-promotional. On the flip side, brands that position themselves as enablers and expert guides on what’s important to consumers are finding an open path to consumer engagement and conversation.

We know the latter can be difficult to accomplish.

It’s hard to step away from the reflex to self-promote.

However, we also know you care deeply about effectiveness and outcomes.

Understanding the difference between the two pathways (self-promotion vs. enabler communication) is vital to making marketing investments payoff – it’s the difference between creating marketing people want rather than ignore. The path to brand relevance now requires a more enlightened and human approach to how the brand and business is presented.

In an ad industry trade story authored by R/GA agency CEO Bob Greenberg that influenced Emergent’s point of view about marketing best practices, he said the definition of a big idea is one that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact the behavior of a company and brand.

A big idea was NOT defined as a catchy slogan or a clever ad or promotion, rather a platform that would have bearing on how the company conducts its business and how the brand behaves in the marketplace. Here we are in 2020 with an elevated idea of what that concept means today.

  • If the purpose of the business is simply to uptick the number of transactions year on year, and the role of marketing is to feed the sales funnel in that endeavor, what are we potentially leaving on the table?

A few years ago, Emergent and insight research firm Fresh Squeezed Ideas, conducted a webinar on the value of businesses working to define their unique Higher Purpose. The premise of this concept is relatively simple: people want to be a part of something that’s greater than themselves. The goal here, to imbue the brand with deeper meaning and by doing so reframe its value proposition while inspiring people to “join” the brand as believers not just buyers.

Beyond Meat says it wants to change how people eat while taking better care of our natural resources. This is different than selling reformulated vegan burgers. The opportunity here is significant when rethinking the mission and purpose of the business, and in doing so creating a more powerful narrative that will draw consumers towards the brand.

Large cap legacy food and beverage businesses struggle now in part because it’s harder to inject an established business platform with soul-like thinking. It’s a cultural transformation that has to start at the very top if it’s to have a prayer of altering the course of a larger enterprise.

Higher purpose is not reserved only for new and emerging brands. In fact, we’ve been surprised of late at the number of new food and beverage businesses that are stuck in the feature/benefit promotional cycle and have not developed any form of mission and purpose that could recast how consumers perceive them beyond a cleaner label.

So we ask: what can galvanize an organization to stretch itself and its brand persona beyond the daily battle for transactions?

Marketing magic is no longer reserved for the clever ad theme or artistic copy point. The old tools don’t work like they used to because the consumer isn’t listening and has the ability to avoid it entirely. People hunger for more honest, authentic connections to the brands that matter to them.

Yeti coolers is an iconic example of a brand that said, “no we are not in the better cooler business.” Instead they are enablers of outdoor adventure, tapping into a deep yearning people have for the experiences and lifestyle aspirations around fishing and hunting.

As a marketer what would you rather do? What kind of conversation do you want to build?

Apple created a way to remove intimidation from computer technology and provide a pathway for creative people to express themselves. The focus isn’t on the machine or its technology but on the aspirational desires and interests people have to make a difference in the world around them.

Reflexively, traditional thinking says the brand marketing should be waxing on about the product and its features. However, this injects the message with a disconnect. Instead, for greater communication effectiveness, the consumer must be the hero of the storytelling with the brand positioned as guide and enabler.

The question we often get is, how do you conduct discovery on what the right higher purpose should be?

Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis is intended to help arrive at the right purpose framework that reflects the unique DNA of the company. The process, however, begins with insight to the consumer’s lifestyle interests, passions, concerns, challenges, wants and needs.

That understanding then aligned with the company’s capabilities, beliefs and strengths helps lead us to a purpose that clarifies the business mission and informs marketing and messaging strategies.

Transparency for example can be viewed as an on-trend tactic. At a more strategic level it can solve three problems: first, to provide visibility to the supply chain. Second, to create consumer confidence in the quality and origin of ingredients used in products. Third, and at a more existential level, it is about embracing truth and honesty – two human characteristics people are naturally drawn to in an era of half-truths and missteps.

Honest Tea made honesty a hallmark of its mission and reason to be. The company ran an honesty gut-check through every aspect of how it conducted itself, how it presented the product and behaved in the marketplace. You may already know the success achieved there; the reframing of the RTD tea category they created and the multiples they reaped on sale of the business to Coca-Cola.

Example questions we explore:

  1. What journey is our consumer on and what can the brand help enable to improve their lives?
  2. What cultural shift or concern is important to users and how can we get involved?
  3. What do we believe as an organization and how can we operate to support a more purposeful mission?

When the brand acquires a Higher Purpose, it reframes the conversation with consumers, it enables storytelling opportunities that will draw consumers into considering or learning more about the brand. The business is no longer wed to aggregating eyeballs and attempting to win on the tonnage of media spend.

The impact on employees can be dramatic, too – the team also wants to be part of something greater than themselves and the organization can rally around the mission with amped up drive, power and commitment to the greater good.

Genuinely helping improve your customers’ lives is a satisfying calling, and this corporate form of reciprocity will attract rather than repel people from your marketing investments.

This is the path to sustainable growth and progress.

If you would like to know more about Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis, let us know.

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

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

Understanding the unique requirements of pet brand marketing

February 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, Transparency 0 comments on “Understanding the unique requirements of pet brand marketing”

Avoid marketing misfires and create opportunities

The pet care business is dynamic, growing and vibrant, while also highly competitive with more new entrants arriving every year. Pet care is also unique in its aligned requirement for better, more strategic and consumer-centric marketing solutions.

What other food category is there where the most popular product form, kibble, is identical in appearance brand to brand. This alone requires significant leaps of faith from buyers to believe the assertions made about the quality of food ingredients inside the nugget.

It is a highly-emotional category where pet parents strive to provide the best diet they can afford for their furry family members as an active expression of their love. Yet the predominant pet food storytelling mechanism is analytical – not emotional – and based largely on protein wars “specsmanship” around percentages of real meat in the food.

Sameness on the hunt for uniqueness

One trip through the aisles and the similarity in messaging trumpets from the shelf. Meat to carb ratios, nutrition superiority, ancestral diet, grain-free, wholesome grains – offering snapshots of beautiful whole chicken, salmon filets, steaks, fresh vegetables and fruits. Human grade food images, often reminiscent of stock food photography, suggest pets are enjoying the same dinner-table fare people consume.

The similarity in brand messaging and imagery creates a blur of confusion for pet parents, who must turn to recommendations from others to get through the gauntlet of like-sounding food claims and complicated label terminology.

Messaging mayhem

At a Pet Food Forum convention, Emergent presented on marketing best practices. We created a chart showing random primary claims made at the shelf by 10 different pet brands on the left and a list of brand names on the right. We challenged the audience to match the message to the brand. In truth, they were all inter-changeable.

But more important, in every case a fundamental miscalculation was at work that embedded a disconnect in the communication.

With few exceptions, typical pet food storytelling casts the brand as the hero of the story rather than the pet parent and pet. Everyday people wake up believing they are the hero of their life story. When encountering messages that cast the brand as competing hero they continue on, still looking for an expert guide to help them solve the problems they face.

When the brand is presented as expert coach to the pet parent, dynamic changes and communication lines open up.

More often than not, pet brands focus on themselves. Understandable, given the enormous efforts to create a top quality, highly nutritious food, but inadvertently inoculating the marketing with a message that doesn’t allow the pet parent to see themselves and their profound pet relationship in the story.

The solution here is to put the pet parent at the center of strategic planning and work backwards from there. Insight to their lifestyle wants, aspirations, needs and the connection to their pet provides the grist for marketing and messaging that works.

Leap of faith?

If ever there were a product category where trust creation is paramount, pet food is it. There is significant marketing mileage to be had for brands that embrace and understand that today, people no longer accept at face value the assertions and claims made by pet brands.

People don’t trust companies – instead they trust other people.

This helps explain why year to year social media continues its upward trajectory as a key element in the marketing mix. Especially when it is respected as an independent forum for pet parents to share anecdotal stories of transformation and change for their pets.

  • All too often social channels are viewed simply as another broadcast vehicle for self-promotion. The goal in pet brand marketing is to earn trust. This is where strategy lives, embracing the opportunities offered when the brand decides to be completely transparent, opening the door to the entire product creation process for people to see and experience.

When belief is an objective, then the voices and messages employed take on new and deeper meaning. Pet parent ambassadors and outside third-party experts like Veterinary physicians and breeders can be instrumental in helping ascend the credibility mountain. Videos with the journey to the farm and kitchens that are constructed around a documentary format (unscripted interviews) rather than ad-like, help elevate the story believably.

An often-overlooked aligned opportunity are the high standards pet brands create for food safety and ingredient quality. We often find these sacrosanct rules exist, but remain largely hidden away and not brought to life (in the context as consumer as hero) as another reason to believe.

Efficiency through integration

For the most part the pet food industry is populated with small and medium sized premium players amongst a smattering of big, legacy brands. Most cannot win the marketing battle on the basis of tonnage in paid media spending. Every dollar invested needs to work like 10, and this condition amplifies the importance of an integrated approach. Even big media budgets no longer guarantee victory (ad-like outreach is increasingly ignored).

The power and effectiveness of awareness building around the important “why” of heavy user re-purchasing, works optimally when all relevant channels are operating in concert from packaging and shelf promotion, to editorial media, to branded social channel posts and how user-generated content is curated and served. This reinforces why the messaging is mission critical.

When the messaging isn’t right, nothing works to greatest impact.

All too often we find complexity in pet brand messaging that runs squarely into a roadblock on the receiving end. Too many distinct brand messages competing for attention forces people to sort through too many claims. Humans will never tax their brains to find relevance, so they simply tune out and walk away. Clarity and simplicity are stronger.

The pet business also consists of thousands of independent retailers, alongside big box and grocery. Trade relationships are critical in this environment manifesting in share of retailer perceptions and resulting linear feet. Trade facing media presents an affordable opportunity to be a dominant voice and another venue where paid and earned can be integrated to maximum effect, especially around key periods such as Global and SuperZoo trade shows.

Earned media opportunities

Earned media is a unicorn non-paid channel, in that editorial sensibility is required to successfully leverage it. Ironically, when the brand casts itself as expert guide (focusing on the issues and concerns of pet care and strives to embrace transparent operation) earned media opportunities multiply. Why? Because it’s more relevant to the audience than self-promotional brand rhetoric.

Trying to leverage ad-like promotion and self-serving events, in a media channel based around what’s newsworthy, is a recipe for non-performance. That said, there’s never been a period in the pet business when news can be served more often, than at a time when virtually every media property out there has turned to lifestyle advice and guidance to enhance their own audience relevance. Just remember the story has to look, walk and talk like news.

What’s next

The winners and losers in pet brand marketing will be driven by those who optimize their messaging for pet parent resonance, making them the hero of the brand story, while working to align company behaviors and operations with the consumer’s demand to do business with brands that embrace similar values and truths.

  • The most valued brands will prevail because they recognize ‘trusted by’ pet parents must be earned daily, and that actions speak just as loudly as words.

Previously we’ve mentioned a complimentary messaging audit as a no-risk way to have a conversation, one that provides added value. We offer it again here. If you would like a fresh perspective on your current messaging approach, let us know.

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

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

Taking Truth to the Bank

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

Transforming business outcomes through transparency

How can we make marketing most effective?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transparency can be a strategic lever to enhanced marketing outcomes

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

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

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

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

What’s your dormant transparency story?

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

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

Let’s talk!

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

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

Learn the Five Anchors of Authenticity

December 11th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Learn the Five Anchors of Authenticity”

A required course on the path to business growth

Yes, the word authenticity may have reached cliché status given its pervasive use as a shorthand explanation of what drives best practices today in brand building. However, truth is, sea changes in consumer culture and resulting purchase behaviors foretell how vital authenticity is to create meaningful relationships between brands and their users.

  • Yet too many companies fail to make authenticity a core platform in their marketing plans, missing the opportunity for real engagement and connection they require to advance the business.

Like moving away from highly processed cheese food (fake) in favor of real natural cheese (genuine), authenticity has much to do with the yearning for belief, higher quality and a better, more meaningful and relate-able story.

This age of authenticity is fueled by a fundamental rule: consumer-centric thinking and planning is a prerequisite. In practice, this means that an organization’s –

Every decision

Every strategy

Every tactic

Every investment

must build from a continuous study and acutely deep understanding of the consumer’s needs, wants and aspirations. The consumer should sit at the heart of the business. All strategic moves emanate from insight about their concerns and interests.

“Customer first” is a long-standing axiom of the retail industry, but as obvious as it may sound, most companies live in a perpetual state of brand narcissism. Company operational and marketing behaviors reveal it’s actually all about “us” – our product features, our benefits, our new formulas, our processes sitting in service of company business objectives.

  • Today however, success springs from becoming an enabler, partner and guide on the consumer’s journey, seeking alignment with their needs and becoming a helpful resource as they work to create a better and more meaningful life.

In the absence of this sensibility, it’s no wonder that engagement with traditional marketing – that’s more often a one-way selling monologue  – is rejected by consumers as irrelevant to them at best – annoying to them at worst.

Authenticity and curating a trusted consumer relationship

The core essence of what authentic means always springs from a less commercial and transactional view of the relationship between seller and buyer. There is a latent suspicion among most people that old-school marketing is really selling, and selling is a form of self-serving persuasion. Buyer beware.

The irony of all this is how human beings are wired to respond to messages. When the consumer is the hero of your story and the brand serves as guide to an improved life, engagement can be achieved. In the absence of this, messaging is primarily noise and ignored.

Thus, if an organization’s objective is assurance their marketing investments will secure traction and work in service of the brand’s growth, it is vital that authenticity is embraced and embedded into how the brand operates and communicates.

The future success of the business depends on it.

Here are the five anchors of authenticity that help drive consumer engagement and brand growth:

  1. Truth

Consumers are faced daily with evidence of misleading information, headlines heralding lapses in judgement and integrity; and stories of businesses operating in their own self-interest at the expense of consumer trust and confidence. An example: recently The Honest Company was outed on their absence of honesty over chemical ingredients they vowed would never be present in their products. Lawsuits have already begun. Consumers demand the truth and truth is neither conditional nor can it be diluted or violated without serious consequences.

  1. Transparency

Truth’s big sister, transparency is how trust is earned. When the curtain is raised and the door is opened to outside scrutiny of all aspects of the product creation process, the opportunity is there to engender trust. “Come see for yourselves that our words do not ring hollow, and that we indeed deliver on the promises we make. Go on, take a look – we have nothing to hide.” In the absence of trust people look for evidence they can believe in.

  1. Relevance

Who is the hero of the story told in your marketing? It’s not the brand. The customer must be the hero; their aspirations, wants and needs take precedence. When consumers see themselves in the story, they pay attention. Everything else is static. Relevance is the acid test of authenticity. It is the center of a less selfish view of the brand/user relationship. The story is always about them, and the brand’s role is Yoda (the expert guide) to Luke Skywalker.

  1. Directness

Consumers can smell traditional marketing a mile away. When the conversation is one-sided and filled with self-promotion and hyperbole, the opportunity for a frank and direct conversation is lost. Consumers run in the opposite direction because the story is no longer about them. Directness is an attribute of a trusted guide and resource. A real conversation set on how the brand solves the problems people face is direct and honest and open.

  1. Validation

In the end, consumers want to believe – but belief must be earned before trust is achieved. People no longer accept assertions and claims at face value. They look for validation of what a brand conveys from sources they respect and perceive to be honest and unbiased. This is the power of social proof and why the voices of real people talking about their experiences with the brand are so powerful. People believe their peers and outside experts before they believe what the brand itself is saying.

Have you noticed a consistent theme in here?

Trust is required for any relationship to exist and it’s hard to earn and easy to lose. The future of marketing is less about entertainment, persuasion and artifice and more about conversation and openness. The goal of every brand is to be an accepted partner on the journey to an improved, happier and healthier life.

When the brand is authentic and honest, we open the door to reciprocity. It just makes sense to put the consumer at the center of strategic planning. Once there, this insight and understanding fuels effective strategy and helps brands avoid wasting money on marketing that doesn’t connect.

Emergent has a defined process to build messaging based on these principles: an approach that eliminates guesswork and serves to draw the consumer in because they are always at the center of the story.

Can we help you build the right story? Let us know if you’d like to learn more about our unique approach to effective messaging.

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

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

Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator

November 10th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator”

Case study: How to become a truly transparent brand

The impact of the ‘always on’ digitally-enabled world we live in is an emerging consumer desire to know the backstory and details of how products are created. Not surprising when you factor in the number one lifestyle concern for people across all age segments is health and wellness. This seek-to-understand behavior is transforming the human and pet food industries.

In parallel, consumers now care deeply about the businesses’ respective mission, purpose, and authenticity – seeking to connect with brands which share their values. As a result, consumers want to understand what’s in the food they’re buying and how the company’s standards and mission are brought to life inside the products they make.

Why is this happening?

Relevance:

First, consumers have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. People care about the foods they’re eating – and want to know more about them. Equally true for pet food.

Belief:

Second, because of eroding, declining trust in the claims and assertions made by brands about their products – consumers are seeking objective, credible sources of information to help them make their own informed judgments.

Personally symbolic:

Third, purchases have become emblematic of what people want the outside world to believe is important to them – so they seek reassurance of high-quality ingredients, ethical standards, healthier and made sustainably.

The concept of Transparency has floated to the top as shorthand for this intense, growing desire to experience and verify what brands claim about their products.

Why this should matter to you:

Consumer trust precedes any kind of relationship and willingness to engage with a brand or product. Trust is earned, not inherently owned – and is based on intentional investments (that don’t look, smell or feel like advertising) to secure it.

If you want your marketing to be welcomed (rather than click to avoid) and believed, then trust is a fundamental requirement. Transparency provides an operable platform for how this is achieved.

What is transparency?

Being truly transparent is about openness, disclosure, access and operating in a trustworthy and forthright manner. Call it actively encouraging observation, scrutiny and reporting from outside sources.

Verifying and validating what you want others to believe about your quality and integrity commitments creates the opportunity for a meaningful conversation with consumers and stakeholders. Respect and reputation are not commodities that come along with simply existing. They are difficult to create and hard to hold onto over time.

Best practices case study: Champion Petfoods

Disclaimer: this is a platform Emergent created and brought to life for Champion after a comprehensive audit of their operations, strengths and unique company commitments.

It goes without saying the pet food industry universally demands trust from its core customers. Given the nature of the product form (ubiquitous brown kibble) pet parents are required to buy into the statements and claims made by brands concerning ingredient quality and how the food is prepared.

Driving this interest is the intense desire pet parent have to express their love for their pets through the quality of the diet provided. Engaged pet owners try as best they can to discern product labels to understand the meaning of words, phrases and insider language used in the pet food world (like meat meal).

Still, a trust gap exists between what’s claimed by brands versus what can be credibly verified.

  • According to a recent study reported in Pet Food Industry magazine, 75% of consumers are willing to switch from their current brand to one that provides more in-depth product information than what appears on the physical label. That’s up from 39% in 2016.

Champion Petfoods is at the forefront of the protein forward, meat-focused, biologically appropriate approach to what has been popularly described as ancestral diet. The company’s early success was attributed to pioneering the focus on percentages of high-quality proteins in the recipe. Champion uses comparatively high levels of fresh and raw animal meat respectful of the physiology and eating anatomy of dogs and cats.

Additionally, to deliver on their mission the company started early to invest in an extensive network of regional farms, ranches and fish supplier partnerships to provide real food ingredients, many within driving distance of their kitchens. This helps enable Champion to be fully transparent about their ingredient sources, sustainability commitments and aligned production standards for its Orijen and Acana brands.

The Champion Transparency Council

The Transparency Council platform was created by Emergent, to address consumers’ evolving need to know more, and in so doing, begin a new conversation with them that addresses their questions about ingredients and safety, nutrition and quality.

This more earnest and authentic approach – galvanized by the Council’s independence and third-party voice – manifested as a sophisticated content engine designed to cement trust and generate a more informative and engaging brand communication.

Highlights:

Emergent conducted a comprehensive recruiting effort for expert Veterinary physician members and a social media based public search for two pet parents to join the four-member Council.

Their mission:  to observe, verify and report on everything Champion does related to making pet food.

Given the significance of trust and transparency to the Council’s mission, it was critical to leverage Champion’s unique supply chain relationships, state-of-the-art kitchens and knowledgeable personnel to underscore the integrity of its stated Biologically Appropriate pet food mandate.

Outcomes:

  • The Council delivered an ongoing content creation platform that carries with it the authentic voice of outside third-party experts and pet parents, offering valuable communication that people want rather than seek to avoid.
  • Champion secured the mantle of Transparency industry leadership at a time when this is an important consideration on the path to purchase.
  • Champion went from zero to 60 quickly as an industry leading editorial voice, in part because the Council and its activity was precedent-setting and newsworthy for the industry.

Emergent Guidance:

  1. Transparency is best served with embedded credibility, using the voices of independent, third parties to report and verify what the company claims about its products.
  2. Openness is a prerequisite and underscores a perception of inclusiveness and honesty.
  3. Seeing is believing, so the deployment of third parties helps fuel an ongoing source of reporting that, over time, can evolve into a channel of helpful, useful guidance on issues and topics important to core customers.
  4. Transparency-based information is ready-made for social channel distribution and helps close the loop on what brand fans believe and say is the reason for their advocacy and brand evangelism.
  5. We have left the era of brand-voiced assertions of performance, and entered a time when trust is paramount and earning it is a requirement for success. Invoking the transparency word in a sentence isn’t nearly as powerful as backing it up with authentic behaviors and actions.

If you’re exploring the power of transparency and would like to know more details about this case study and the tactics, activation and media we deployed, let’s find a time to talk.

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

Why Trust Now Precedes All Brand Engagement

June 18th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Pet food marketing, Transparency 0 comments on “Why Trust Now Precedes All Brand Engagement”

A storied call to embrace trust creation

Consumers continue to vote using their time, attention and spending to favor brands they trust while virtually ignoring the rest. Yet this important insight apparently hasn’t informed the daily barrage of product claim and assertion-style communication that dominates the food and beverage marketing landscape.

What’s needed is a fresh approach and new ideas that disrupt the old model of overt selling in favor of a more enlightened view of reciprocity — which works to form the proper foundation of any successful brand and consumer relationship. What’s changed? The ever-evolving consumer who shapes cultural norms and with it, expectations that impact what they find meaningful, relevant and purchase-worthy among the brands they consider.

Here’s the profound truth about what sits at the core of consumer behavior: Jerald Podair, Editor of The Rutledge History of the 20th Century United States said it succinctly, “we live in the age of disputed facts, disputed truth, personal truth, my truth and your truth.” The collective desire and yearning among people are simple – they want to know and believe they are in receipt of the truth about products and services they love.

This explains the rapid rise of transparency, product creation candor, and validation as a fundamental driver of what people require ahead of purchasing the brands that matter to them. See-for-yourself-marketing. Thus, food marketing best practices must move further away from gloss and artifice, and closer to embracing the plain-spoken credible voices of personal experience intertwined with respected expert guidance.

Survey data shows the extent of this important swing

At the recent Cannes festival celebrating the ad creative world, Edelman once again presented their annual Trust Barometer, a quantitative study focused on consumer attitudes about brands. The evidence reinforces the conclusion that trust is required for anything in marketing to function effectively.

Here’s the hard truth:

  • 73% of people actively work to avoid advertising. This is likely to increase with continued adoption of ad blocker software that makes it easy to do so.
  • 41% of people say about the marketing activity they do encounter that the communication is seldom seen as truthful.
  • 63% trust what outside third-party experts and influencers say more so than what a brand conveys on its own – what’s that tell you?

Lest this all appear to be an assault on brand communication, there’s another statistic in the report that bodes well for brands that put trust creation at the center of strategic planning.

  • 76% of consumers want and will pay attention to advertising from brands they trust. How come? Because they believe in and embrace the story as true.

The path forward: Emergent guidance

It’s important that we note the difference between trusted and not yet trusted. Brand believers want affirmation of their good decision. Believers enjoy and seek out (confirmation bias) a little positive drama and emotion connected with the community they’ve joined.

On the other hand, the unconverted require evidence and credible demonstration of the product creation backstory, disclosure of company beliefs and mission, and proof of visible actions that shine a light on the truth of what’s being conveyed.

Here are three simple steps to improved engagement and greater marketing success:

  1. What is the message?

Shameless brand self-promotion isn’t nearly as effective as aligning the brand with the consumer’s lifestyle interests and needs – and becoming an enabler of them. You have to earn trust first. Before you can sell your pet food for example, pet parents need to see how the brand helps enhance and contribute to the experiences and interests they have in their shared lifestyle and pet’s wellbeing.

  1. Who is the messenger?

For the yet-to-be-converted credibility matters. Social proof is a critical factor to help foster trust. People believe their family, friends and contemporaries first. How is the brand enabling the voices of fans to convey their experiences and to distribute content that tells their stories? Outside credible experts can also be enlisted to amplify the evidence underneath the product creation story about ingredient sourcing, standards of quality, safety and generally walking the walk.

  1. Intentionally following the path to trust

It’s important to note here this is easier said than done. It requires changing the mindset on why the company exists and what, in the larger, human, universal scope – and certainly beyond the balance sheet – is the company trying to contribute to the greater good. It requires everyone to care about the consumer’s welfare and to see the brand as contributing to their health and happiness. However, what you think and believe will inform every action. It’s hard to get away with messaging around this without addressing the company’s true higher purpose and at its foundation what it stands for.

People are very astute these days at recognizing the truthful from anything that isn’t. If your brand heart is in the right place and you’ve optimized strategies to make trust creation a top priority, there’s an opportunity to earn permission for a relationship that can drive sustainable growth.

What kind of conversation are you really having with your prospective consumers? Is trust creation a top priority around the strategic planning table?

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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