Posts tagged "brand differentiation"

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.

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.

Brands: Mastering the Sea of White Rectangles

October 17th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, Healthy Living, shopper experience 0 comments on “Brands: Mastering the Sea of White Rectangles”

Harnessing the power of humanizing differentiation

When we first started working for Serta® mattress brand, our wonderful client arranged for us to tour the mattress factory. We saw firsthand the great care taken to arrange the inner combinations of coils and surrounding layers of material to create the right balance of comfort and support when sleeping. They were proud of the efforts made to study spine alignment, blood circulation and how pressure points impact the quality of sleep.

Naturally, they wanted to highlight that understanding, material expertise and tech in marketing communication.

For our part, we also invested heavily in studying the purchase experience and shopping environment: the sleep products store where mattresses met the people who will ultimately spend a third of their lives atop their selections.

We were struck by the commoditized conditions at retail; an environment we referred to as the “Sea of White Rectangles.” Brands and models all looked the same, were presented in similar fashion with similar claims regarding what existed below the fancier furniture-like case fabric. Equally, we learned that consumers loathed the experience of bed shopping, and in some cases described it in used-car dealer metaphors.

Together with our client, we fashioned a new roadmap based on what happens on the other side of improved sleep. The emotional benefits and real-world lift related to getting more out of a good night’s rest. The impact that improved sleep has on creativity, work productivity, personal relationships, mental attitude and general happiness. Yes, sleep quality and sleep deprivation hits you in ways you may not even realize.

We worked to cast this in real human terms – real people stories – and how better sleep also improved your day, your happiness and your life. It wasn’t the nighttime rest imagery so typical in the bedding business – it was the next day’s improved experience that truly mattered.

Rather than the coils or support-giving design or temperature-regulating materials, Serta’s brand differentiation was elevated through the tangible, human outcome when sleep quality is markedly improved.

Commoditization can command the business until disrupted

Sameness exists in so many product categories because we’ve come to a place where technologies and formulas are often very near parity. The real distance between one product and another in its category has been narrowed, slimmed down and parsed.

Pet foods are a great example of similar formulations, comparable language, packaging approaches, and claims around nutritional efficacy. The passion, love and relationship with pet parents and pets, and the desire to add value to the quality of their lives (mutually beneficial) is another matter entirely.

And others:

  • Car designs and features within their utility, performance or luxury classes.
  • Mobile phones and their screen tech, cameras and apps.
  • Foods and their labels, ingredients and nutrition.

In virtually every product category you find, the capabilities and technologies are within close proximity to one another. But still companies fall in love with the efforts they make to install quality at every level, to source ingredients with great care, to craft solutions that deliver on taste or user experience. Yes, all of this matters, however, when looking to mine true differentiation

Consideration must be given to humans, and their personal experiences with the product. It’s a vital part of the strategic discussion, often punted in favor of showcasing the latest tech wizardry. That’s great if you’re designing ads *for* the company’s engineers (but even they need a good night’s sleep). Each and every one of us is an emotional being who thinks with their heart first and mind second. As we’ve conveyed before: People are feeling creatures that think, not thinking creatures that feel.

Communication, brand, experience, shopping environment must be viewed through the lens of how people feel; and the changes that can occur in the quality of their lives when your brand gets the opportunity to be involved with them. It’s here where the entire brand proposition will be separated and elevated from everything else competing for share of mind, stomach or wallet.

Casper Casts a Different Story

Meanwhile back in the bedroom, sleep category disruptor Casper came along to reassess every aspect of bed marketing, including the retail sea of white rectangles retail paradigm, by-passing it entirely.

With an eye towards disrupting the current go-to-market model, Casper made changes in product design, e-commerce sales, extensive guarantees, and communication founded on lifestyle help over hype. Casper pushed community building and social conversation rather than the normal efforts to market “at” people.

Casper’s highly topical e-zine, VanWinkle, and investment in social channel engagement are examples of building relevance with their core customer base. They cultivated brand ambassadorship and harnessed incredibly powerful consumer reviews to influence purchase. Casper is humanizing the bed business, and in doing so, came out of left field to capture significant share.

At Emergent our approach to client businesses begins first with an effort to understand category conventions and behaviors. From there we work to enhance uniqueness and differentiation based on blending essential product truths with insight to consumer passions and interests.

Are you ready to take on the battle against sameness?

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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