Posts tagged "Brand Design"

Sustainability drives revenue

Sustainability to Drive Brand Preference and Sales Growth

October 6th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Greenhouse Gas, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Sustainability 0 comments on “Sustainability to Drive Brand Preference and Sales Growth”

Moral imperative motivating action

A cultural transformation underway now in food, beverage and lifestyle categories is having an impact on the path to purchase. Are you ready for it? Consumers are moving away from buying decisions founded entirely on evaluations of “what’s good for me” to also embracing “what’s good for the world around me.”

  • In a recent study conducted by our insight research partner Brand Experience Group, 66% of US consumers are either passionate or concerned about sustainability commitments by brands and retailers. This insight is translating into marketplace behaviors as consumers look for more sustainable solutions at retail.

A form of moral imperative is rising to the surface in how consumers view their purchasing decisions. Increasingly, consumer buying is founded in symbolism and signaling to the outside world not only their own values, but also the sustainability readiness of the brands they prefer.

Conscientious Consumption has arrived. It is a criterion in the hierarchy of meaning consumers assign to brands. People are now voting their values and beliefs at the cash register. They want to align themselves with brands and retailers who are signaling environmental responsibility and standards of performance. Is your brand sustainability ready? Is this embedded in your go-to-market plan?

How brands address this shift on the path to purchase is creating significant questions about brand messaging strategy, as well as aligned on-pack and shelf communication to inform users of sustainability bona fides.

The coming shopping friction

How does the consumer actualize their moral motivation when shopping across multiple brand choices in food, beverage and lifestyle categories? How can they assess the sustainability readiness of Brand X vs. Brand Y? Consumer sentiment is once again tracking ahead of the current marketplace reality. Brands and retailers that step in to help guide shoppers on environmental standards will reap the benefits of added relevance multiplied by surprise and delight.

  • For food retailers much as the “international” aisles became a shopping destination point years ago, can there be a health, wellness and sustainability section that features brands with an environmentally-responsible story to tell?

If brands don’t step up to acknowledge this change and improve communication based on these insights, it becomes near impossible to translate sustainability investments into tangible balance sheet outcomes. For those who do, the rewards may be great!

  • The formula for sustainability success is science and metrics-based environmental and climate mitigation analysis of your operations and supply chain, served alongside clear established metrics for change and improvement. This performance is then multiplied exponentially by a strong, creative communications platform to tell that story to the right audience. Awareness of this narrative drives purchase.

Feeding the primacy of emotional outreach

Product feature and benefit selling has been the hallmark of CPG communications for decades. The emergence of these new societal and moral imperative considerations on the path to purchase recommends a more culture-forward brand messaging strategy. “What’s good for the world around us” is, by definition, an emotional construct.

In a recent Marketing Dive interview, Matt Kleinschmit, founder and CEO of insights research company Reach3 said, “Brand loyalty is really something that is, in fast-moving consumer goods, more of an aspiration than a reality. As a result, modern marketers in the CPG world have latched on to this idea of trying to establish emotional connections with consumers. If there’s an emotional connection, that will often trump functional benefits,” he reports. “Brands that can execute that in a smart way are winning.”

Smart in this case is recognizing the importance consumers are already placing on sustainability and environmental performance. From there brands can work through investments, policies and actions to demonstrate in credible ways how that readiness manifests in the products on offer. When higher purpose and mission intersect fully with product outreach strategies a form of engagement magic can occur. Now the motivation to buy takes on deeper meaning and added importance that transcends any existing parity (similarity) on price and formulation.

Is a trust mark needed?

Is it time to begin thinking about the development of a trust mark that employs credible independent third-party analysis to validate sustainability readiness? A mark could serve as a visual piece of retail shelf-friendly evidence that a brand is a better choice based on its verified sustainability bona fides.

Emergent is examining this idea in greater detail and will report back to our readers on potential solutions. The objective: create an anchor for trustworthy choice and credible reassurance that the fox isn’t guarding the hen house on the veracity of sustainability claims.

Stay tuned.

Closing the loop to digital marketing and activating purchase in the moment

Walmart recently announced a major partnership with Meredith, publishers of media brands like Better Homes & Gardens, Eating Well, Parents and Real Simple. The new AI driven integrated marketing platform they jointly create will feature “shoppable” content in the first-ever ‘Bookazine’ to feature embedded ecommerce links. The content will allow consumers to purchase directly from the delivered stories and recommended meal experiences.

  • Imagine how this could evolve in stories related to climate readiness, sustainability issues and developments around standards of performance that promise new metrics-based mitigation targets. Consumers could execute a purchase right then and there at the “point of thought and realization.” The high emotional index coupled to commerce-in-the-moment is a truly powerful idea.

Media partnerships connected to shoppable content can open an entirely new window of brand relevance on top of a value proposition built around deeper meaning. This is exciting! The created content becomes actionable, fully closing the loop from awareness to sale authored by the most worthy of buying motivations. Wow.

Matching sustainability readiness to business performance

If you understand the powerful paradigm of sustainability as a concern among your customer base, now is the time to optimize this development on the path to purchase with emotional messaging and digital shoppable content.

Use this link to ask questions and explore this concept further with our Brand Sustainability Solutions team.

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.

Brands are badges to be worn

4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth

September 23rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Category Design, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Product design, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth”

Advantages you can plan and design for

Food culture in America has dramatically shifted during the last 10 years. People favor premium quality, higher priced products that address modern dietary needs serving health, wellness and sustainability goals. Better food experiences, fresh ingredients, more sophisticated tastes and the brand sustainability symbolism that goes along with it help complete the mission and taste adventure. This is the preference paradigm where all innovations whether from legacy brand or new player must pay homage on the road to success.

  • Here are four key strategies that hold sway over your ability to succeed, to grow and gain share for food and beverage innovations.

We highlight these four distinctive growth strategies in part because they are passed over all too frequently. Eclipsed by the allure of instant scale, every-new-retail-door-is-a-good-door and ill-advised distribution moves that undercut the very brand value proposition that premium CPG solutions embody. This helps explain the high innovation failure rate or seemingly insurmountable plateaus where new emerging brands stall out, never getting a shot at the high volume homeruns of wider adoption downstream.

Want to assure your brand innovations are successful and not a casualty on the path to pantry and fridge domination? Then read on.

  1. Your product concept is the marketing lynchpin (watch out for the Special Occasion Trap)

Food retailers care about velocity and monitor it relentlessly. Marketers care about scale because velocity and scale together are the flags of a winning concept; thus, why growth nirvana for premium CPG success always begins with strategic product and category design. Your innovation goal is a product that naturally, intuitively fits with frequent if not daily consumption occasions and feeds high repeat purchase behavior. Retailers understand this and look for it.

Products that are intended for niche, episodic occasions are much harder to score scaling victory for the very reason they don’t lend themselves to velocity, high repeat purchase business imperatives. If fancy jams are your jam, be prepared for the embedded difficulties that come with slow turn categories or segments with a narrow, special interest fan base.

2. Public ‘display’ categories add symbolism romance to marketing

Food and beverage purchases these days are largely symbolic. People ‘wear’ their brands as a statement, a flag, a visible demonstration of what they value and what they wish to signal to the world around them about who they are.

You know this so can you plan for it, use it. How can you enable consumers to fly your symbolic brand flag? Does your premium brand innovation lend itself to public display occasions such as barbecues, parties, taken to the office or gym and consumed in a social setting? Brand iconography, symbolism and telegraphing of same can be deployed here to help your users display and vote their beliefs and values. Too often this opportunity gets overlooked.

3. Pack strategies can ignite new occasions

No doubt you’ve heard of price-pack architecture. There is a bit of CPG magic in this strategic growth solution. It helps you lean into new and different occasions while creating higher average retail price points (more cash and flow) with a perceived embedded consumer discount, and more facings (brand billboard) at shelf. Pack architecture projects open the door to migrating your users to new consumption occasions.

Amplify Brands’ Skinny Pop brand rode the pack architecture idea to fame and fortune by creating both smaller bags and larger pack sizes of their pound-able guilt-free popcorn. The move lifted average price points while leveraging new use occasions from school lunches to birthday parties. When you offer new packs the input costs are manageable while adding exponential growth on the income side and serving the usage occasion/velocity rule at the same time.

4. The slightly uncomfortable but immutable rule of upscale zip code distribution

There’s an old but wise saying: fish where the fish are. For premium priced food and beverage innovations the distribution strategy decisions you make will have an enormous impact on your ability to gain traction and scale the business. Where you do business matters especially in the early going.

Premium innovations are home to higher quality ingredients, real food-based formulations.  These brands reflect the lifestyle symbolism embraced by consumer cohorts who in reality control the fortunes and failures of new product fame or flame out.

What do we know: educated, high earning households congregate in upmarket neighborhoods. Trial for premium priced CPG innovations will always be better served in retail doors that exist to serve an upscale shopper base. These folks not only won’t flinch at your higher price point, they are also hunters of new premium innovations. Early trial fuels their social currency of being a word-of mouth warrior.

There was a time when Whole Foods owned the early trial zone for premium CPG innovations, but other banners have caught up in their premium offerings. Now it’s a zip code exercise where your decisions are more about the education levels of the communities you distribute in ahead of other considerations.

The guidance: not every new door is the right retail door. Controlled expansion plus patience are better for building your business rather than taking distribution wherever you can get it. EDLP retailers have a different model and a different shopper base driven more by price point than your quality ingredient, healthy lifestyle bona fides. Walmart is better for mass legacy brands for this reason.

  • Broader distribution and wider geographic expansion make sense when innovations become mainstream and lower income households begin to take them up. Going that route too early can create problems leading to profit-eroding price drops and even delisting if you’re not careful.

There are 40 metro areas in the U.S. where greater than 30% of the adult population has a Bachelor degree or higher. That’s a cohort of more than 65 million adults. Higher income zip codes within those metros are primed for premium CPG introductions. These higher income, higher educated households are tuned-in to the evolutionary changes going on in modern dietary preferences. They are listening to your narrative.

  • In sum, you will grow in geographic areas where large numbers of people attach their lifestyle symbolism to your brand and spread it in their social circles. You should be on shelf in the banners where the shopper population is experientially primed to look for you.

Don’t forget to consider University towns for the same reason. These can be enthusiastic communities for bold, dietary alterations and innovations. Young adults especially are early adopters and influential in making new dietary shifts.

Here is the premium CPG innovation recipe for success assuming the product design fits squarely in the frequent consumption arena.

  • Build visibility, awareness and discoverability in the right stores in the right zip codes.
  • Increase local household penetration.
  • Increase consumption rates among early-in users by adding consumption occasions.

If you have these challenges and strategic questions as you plan your innovations and launch strategies, use this link to start a conversation with us. We can help you create a roadmap to success and the brand narrative well told to go with it. We are new product launch specialists.


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.

Niche community marketing

The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here

August 31st, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Journey Map, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Insight, Social proof, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here”

Internet enables strategic shift to networks of influence

Forever and a day, brand and retail marketing centered on identifying key user targets, parsing user cohorts and unearthing insights to define their respective habits, preferences, passions, interests and behaviors. The goal – to refine brand relevance; make media decisions based on their demographics and psychographics; and craft creative messaging to reach these individuals.

But the world has changed (again) and now the path to consumer engagement must be calculated in the context of how and where people participate in communities that help them filter, read, decide and buy.

More than at any other time in modern marketing, products are more susceptible to trends than individual preferences. What do we now know? People are social creatures. The digital world we all live in enables and caters to their collective passions whether that be health and wellness, cooking creativity, love of wine and spirits, fashionable-ness or nurturing a pet-oriented lifestyle.

Communities form and prosper around shared interests.

The wisdom of a curated community

Neuroscience now helps us understand that behaviors are impacted by trends and popularity in user communities. People see community recognition and acceptance as validation that a product or a TV show must be good because ‘everybody’ is using or watching it. Call it fear of missing out or confidence in community consensus.

  • Old way of thinking: to scale your business go wide, cast a broad net and employ mass media as much as possible.
  • New way of thinking: look for networks of influence and go narrow to micro-communities that cater to niche tastes and shared values.

The Internet has operated as an endless digital enabler of nichemanship. Yet many brands remain wed to strategies focused on individuals and amassing eyeballs more so than immersion into the smaller communities where people participate and ‘belong.’

Questions you should be asking

In which communities do your users belong and participate?

Who are the sources of influence and prominent voices in that network?

What trends and interests are actively supported in the community?

How can you best enable users to contribute to the community?

It’s important to take note of shared tastes and values in these settings and to employ that insight in your messaging and outreach strategies.

What are your customers’ embedded interests? What issues, activities, hobbies do they care about and invest their time? If users have a specific interest area that lights their fire, chances are they belong to a community that focuses on it. People participate in influence networks that inform and feed their passions.

Look for the ‘religion’

Some might agree love of whiskey is a religion. There are beliefs and values associated with distilling traditions, still design, ingredients, casks and aging. There’s unique nomenclature and perceptions of what constitutes a good, better or best product. There are lifestyle associations, groups, communities, events and narrowcast media. There are also expert voices and sources of influence on what matters and new developments in product innovation.

For a brand there is more to be gained by studying the networks of influence than blind devotion to detailed persona descriptions of individual whiskey heavy users. Trends can drive leaps in market share, so it’s important to operate as a disciple in the community, embrace the religion of shared beliefs and identify the influence networks within them.

This concept of category religion can be applied in any number of high-engagement businesses where a fan base of ambassadors and evangelists reside.

The role of experts in outreach

Building credibility and trust are paramount these days. Deployment of subject matter experts, be they credentialed or citizen, matters greatly in verifying trends and authenticating community beliefs. When the brand sees its role as enabler, coach and guide to its users rather than product seller, deploying expert engagement in social channels can feed participation, conversation and sharing.

The foundation: your brand Higher Purpose

It is easier to anchor marketing in communities of shared values and beliefs when the brand ‘soul’ is well developed around a purpose that transcends commerce and self-promotion. If you want people to join your community as believers, then you have to give them something in which to believe.

Sadly more often than not, the brand’s ability to position itself in influence networks and community is diluted by operating in the ’three miles wide and a half inch deep‘ mode of transactional behavior. Purpose imbues your brand with a more meaningful voice and greater resonance because the community sees you are wearing your values like a well-tailored suit. 

Hard work ahead

Identifying and understanding networks of influence requires more study and asking different questions during insight research.  Conversation within these communities based on trends and values will help build brand relevance and value among those who care the most. Those are your best customers who over time will deliver greater volume and profit than the less loyal, less engaged users who come and go on deal.

If you think fresh thinking and guidance on influence strategies would benefit your marketing plans, use this link to start an informal conversation

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

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

Losing brand relevance when the consumer evolves

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changes now upon us –

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

Challenges that result –

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

New brands are stepping into the gap

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

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

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

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

Food culture refinement is fueling change

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

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

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

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

When food experience is driven by ingredients

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

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

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

How to disrupt yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emerging brand launch best practices

The remarkable path to emerging CPG brand fame and fortune

May 5th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Activism, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, Differentiation, Emerging brands, Strategic Planning, Sustainability 0 comments on “The remarkable path to emerging CPG brand fame and fortune”

Your early priority: what will consumers rave about?

An inconvenient truth: the vast majority (80%) of emerging CPG food and beverage brands will never surpass $1 million in annual sales. Here we examine some of the critical components that drive velocity growth and reveal the fundamental rules that must be respected to scale a new brand over time.

In case you’re wondering, this has no bearing on the scope of investment funding in development and launch phases. The business opportunities, ultimate size of the prize and inherent growth-limiting factors all begin with the product concept itself.

It’s true, the product IS the marketing. The product shouldn’t require promotional lipstick to make itself appear attractive. Instead, it should draw a following because it exudes its own obvious and valued magnetism.

No matter what the Series A, B or C funding rounds looks like:

  • You can’t buy food culture relevance
  • You can’t buy consumer enthusiasm for the product
  • You can’t mandate or enforce memorability on the consumer

The product concept must be strong, unique and valuable enough to drive interest across a larger addressable market.

It’s hard to get noticed when the product isn’t a knockout standout relative to adjacent choices.

Mediocre (not rave-able) innovations, especially in saturated categories, almost never scale because the product concept isn’t big or exceptional enough to leap ahead of current category players. If the product doesn’t incite high memorability levels and consumer passion it won’t be able to drive a sufficient baseline of routine repeat purchasers.

Throwing money at a relevance and value proposition problem won’t help.

For example, hardcore nutritional innovations are difficult to scale because they can’t attract an audience past the ‘holistic’ alternate nutrition audience segment. If sales are dependent on a narrow cult of users, it creates an automatic embedded drag on velocity.

Instead, product design must connect symbolically to highly valued, desirable dietary outcomes for the consumer who will enthusiastically seek it out – such as weight management, energy, immunity, overall health/wellness or indulgence.

Key information the exec team needs to seek through active listening with early-in users:

  • What attribute-outcome association is the early adopter holding in their mind?
  • Which associations do the heavy users embrace?
  • Which of these attribute-outcome associations is truly scalable?

This data should be used to refine and improve the product in its earlier stages of distribution so that once the gas pedal on added distribution is pushed, the product itself is accurately, optimally reflecting what consumers say is their ‘why’ for buying repeatedly.

This is also a vote for patience in expanding the retail door footprint. While some brokers may believe any increase in volume as good volume to have, if there are flaws in the product experience, added distribution will only further expose those weaknesses – risking future delisting if repeat purchase performance falls off. To succeed in steadily increasing overall case volume movement, a core base of repeat buyers (satisfied enthusiasts) must be established, with product trial users added on top of the base.

Category selection and design is vital to long-term success

Please take note, consumers shop categories first and brands second. Likewise, retailers see themselves as category managers. A category is a culturally relevant cognitive title that works to secure a specific use/space/value location in the consumer’s brain.

If you’ve followed our recent articles on radical differentiation, you know how important uniqueness is to generate sufficient category separation from other nearby brand combatants. Ideally, the new brand should occupy its own category space.

The goal of topflight category design is to mine strategic differences that are competitively scalable.

  • Here’s Emergent’s top scale principle: the innovation must be attractive to a larger audience and clearly, effectively answer a consumer dietary need or goal – such as ‘natural, better for you, plus an important bonus attribute’. What that attribute will be comprises the creative challenge of our work in category design.

Why did Beyond and Impossible scale so quickly?

The product innovation here for both brands was a significant vault ahead for plant-based meat over previous category versions that were more narrowly positioned for vegan and vegetarian users. They could have elected to position their products as an improved plant-based meat for vegans, a narrow, small cohort when compared to other segments of the meat business.

Instead, they pursued the largest addressable market opportunity, cast as ‘meat lovers’ (which is nearly everyone). This audacious, bold move was built on confidence the product eating experience and taste would live up to the litmus flavor test from beef hamburger fans. Further they created a new category in the fresh meat department – plant-based meat for meat lovers.

Because the product delivered fully on this promise, it fueled word of mouth and consumer enthusiasm/ambassadorship – further closing the loop on trust and credibility. The promise was effectively fulfilled in the candid testimonials of happy users.

Most important however: these brands also conquered the one barrier that often stands in the way of acceptance – perceived risk. How did they manage consumer skepticism about anything novel and new that includes trailing sensory baggage about taste compromises associated with plant-based burgers? The smartly played decadent, indulgent, crave-able, mouthwatering photos of luscious cheeseburgers to build desire and taste appeal said it all. Zero effort here to sell this as a health food (read: tastes bad).

They also benefited from a consumer perception that anything plant-based is better for you and thus why people are looking to add plant-based foods to their diet. The climate message was tertiary social issue icing on the value proposition cake that added ‘feels good’ to consumption. It also operated effectively as a relevant publicity angle to enhance awareness.

The role of symbolism

Consumers are loathe to tax their brains or burn mental calories trying to determine if a product addresses what they believe the purchase should signal about their values to the world around them. Package symbolism becomes a vital link in respecting this signaling behavior that a purchase confers on the user.

This isn’t an invitation to the over-use of certification logos (Whole 30, Certified Organic, etc.) that often clutter up the front panel of many new premium food brand packages. Photography and graphics that billboard the trademark and primary attribute offering from the shelf should intentionally bring visual cues that evoke the brand’s deeper meaning.

Consumer social communities are always based on shared values. Those values operate sub-consciously and are on auto pilot. The decision to pick brand A over B is really a social decision. For this reason consumers have learned to quickly scan for symbolism on product packages.

  • “Consumers do not eat kale because they watched a heartbreaking documentary about the meat industry. They eat it because, by doing so, they send social signals of being enlightened, wellness-obsessed, and socially conscious. They do not watch “Succession” because they like it; they watch it because their friends watch it and they want to participate in the shared experience.” Sociology of Business

Halo Top went to market as a high protein ice cream. An odd attribute for ice cream. After carefully listening and then iterating changes to their package, they pivoted to low calorie indulgence and off it went to fame and fortune. Why? Weight management is a highly leverage-able dietary outcome.

Repeat purchase rates are fed by an enthusiastic fan base that shows up in social channel participation. The best influencers are current repeat users who nourish the social channel proof loop about their ‘why’.

In reality, the consumer is your true business partner

In Dr. James Richardson’s wonderfully insightful and well-written book, Ramping Your Brand, he lands on the ultimate list of questions founders should be asking of their users to inform strategy.

  1. Why do they like your product line? Is the motivating outcome scalable?
  2. Who are the “wrong” consumers”? (i.e., those motivated by non-scalable outcomes or who make insincere trade-offs on taste)
  3. How do they use it in everyday life?
  4. Does it fold well into their daily routines?
  5. How often do they use it? (e.g., daily, weekly, special occasions)
  6. What, if anything, they would change? (e.g., weird after taste, pack size, etc.)

As Richardson reports, consumer packaged foods and beverages are all about “easy-to-shop, easy-to-buy, easy-to-use shortcuts to achieve desired outcomes. Find the right way to sell to consumers, not the right way to turn them into your image of what you want them to be.”

If this article sparks interest about optimizing your business on the path to marketplace fame and fortune, use this link to launch an informal get acquainted conversation with us to share your questions.

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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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