Posts tagged "brand marketing"

Storytelling can change history, alter the path for brand growth

The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome

January 22nd, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Insight, Public Relations, storytelling, Validation 0 comments on “The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome”

When Real, Powerful Human Stories Must be Told

It’s in the story telling and the strategic nuances of where and how they’re told that great things happen. Over time I have come to see and appreciate these tools that work to greatest effect and benefit in altering the future trajectory of client businesses.

There’s one story that stands out above others. The strategic principles bound up in this example have proven effective time and time again. It recurs often enough to have earned first place in the strategic arsenal as a reliable go-to for business progress. It’s the stories well-told by real people about how their lives have been impacted by our clients’ products.

An unforgettable day, a powerful moment, a sea-change that saved lives

A while back I owned an agency called Wheatley Blair. We were retained by home safety products company First Alert to launch the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm, a warning device for a household hazard that is unseen, dangerous and invisible to any human. It was the leading cause of accidental poisoning fatalities in America, claiming more than 1,500 lives every year and countless thousands more who were sickened or injured.

In our efforts to build a platform for launch we felt it was important to create a constituency of ambassadors including families who had lived through poisoning events or lost loved ones. Alongside them we built an advocate team of poison physicians who understood the threat, air quality experts who could explain how the gas is released and builds up in a home, and the fire service community of emergency first responders. We initiated a collaboration with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency charged with evaluating and monitoring new safety solutions.

Our campaign to alert American families gained traction as major news media broadcast our story of the “Silent Killer.” Word spread rapidly about this household hazard produced by combustion appliances like furnaces, ovens, hot water heaters and fireplaces. People lined up outside at hardware and homecenter stores to buy the alarms.

What we didn’t expect at the beginning was a foe to quickly emerge

The American Gas Association stormed out of the wings taking aim at our client because they felt the issue disparaged their product. Frankly while I understood their concern, it made no sense to me because the threat isn’t the fuel, it’s malfunctioning combustion appliances, exhaust systems and chimneys. But never mind, the industry came out swinging suggesting we were creating unnecessary alarm.

A David vs Goliath story if there ever was one

The natural gas industry is gigantic. They had more money to throw at this issue than our client had in total sales company wide. We were David to a well-financed Goliath. Naturally when this challenge emerged, we made a beeline for the Gas Association head offices looking to enlist them as collaborators in the effort to save lives and protect families. We thought, “Who wouldn’t sign on for that kind of life safety effort?”

  • Walking into the lion’s den, we made an appearance in their executive conference room attempting to persuade them that this was a golden opportunity for the industry to join in a lifesaving education activity.  This would endear them to families while associating their “brand” and product with a public safety initiative.

Unfortunately, they saw the issue as a threat and instead kicked off an effort to try and derail the carbon monoxide education campaign. When you’re working on the side of the angels it is unlikely that even a well-financed effort to discredit and downplay will work.

It came to its pinnacle at an industrywide conference held in Washington DC. It was their effort to rally the regional gas company members around a call to resist the carbon monoxide alarm education efforts and counter with their own claim that this was much ado about nothing.

  • But the handlers inadvertently made a strategic error. To create a perception of due diligence, they invited the Consumer Product Safety Commission to join and be part of the speaker line up. By law if the CPSC is involved in a meeting, it becomes a public event which anyone is free to attend.

Initially we offered to provide speakers and expert content but were denied. We decided to meet the challenge head-on by attending the meeting uninvited. Our strategy: to bring 10 families who had experienced a carbon monoxide disaster of their own to come and tell their stories at the conference. During question-and-answer sessions in the meeting agenda, they would come to the microphone and share their story while challenging the industry to help save lives.

  • One by one families in the audience stood up and told their stories, some of them heart rending of how loved ones were lost. Poison physicians explained how the gas impacts the human body causing people to suffocate from the inside out. Air quality experts detailed how an appliance can malfunction to emit this highly toxic material.

In the hallway outside the ballroom, I observed. My heart was racing as the testimonials unfolded in hostile territory. You could hear a pin drop as the families shared their unscripted, real, personal experiences. Meantime, the chief conference organizer was furious at our team for this move to confront the industry, and threatened to throw us out of the building. I calmly explained that CPSC rules and law require that these families be given entry to what was now a public meeting. If they did throw us out, we would invite national TV news crews to the parking lot to interview the families about being denied access.

He quickly backed down.

The meeting went on.

Then, the sea change occurred.

I witnessed the tide turn before my eyes as gas company CEOs came to the lectern to say they were personally touched by and impressed with what they heard. By the end of the meeting the industry moved to begin educating people about the threat rather than resisting it. Many eventually became sellers of carbon monoxide alarms themselves.

Why did this work so powerfully?

Real people telling honest stories with passion and pathos impacts the heart as much as the head. It is immediately trustworthy in a communications environment often filled with dubious claims and assertions that may or may not hold up under scrutiny.

Negative claims had no power in the face of real personal story. It was overwhelming and in the moment the chasm was bridged, the path permanently altered, and the world changed.

You can do this, too.

I enjoy what I do. Marketing and communication is my life calling. The business has rewarded me with an outlet for my creative bent, a curiously accurate business sense and ability to see the big picture of how client organizations can move to take the next leap in their development and growth.

So it’s really an avocation as much as a vocation. That said, I learned a ton from the First Alert assignment – about the power of stories to alter the course of history and events. What’s more I’ve seen this outcome repeat over and over. When people share their personal stories of change, renewal, improvement and growth, big things can happen and business leaps abound.

  • The devil is in the details of how this is executed. Want people to join your brand as advocates and evangelists? Give them a voice, move those stories out and let their experiences verify what you want people to know and believe about your products and brand.

The outcomes can be life changing. In First Alert’s case, it created a successful new category that propelled the company to a higher level of significance and value with consumers and trade customers, plus $250 million in added business within 15 months of launch. The Walmart buyer called carbon monoxide alarms the Cabbage Patch doll of the hardware department. We called it a significant achievement in the goal to save lives. A win and win.

  • These moments in life and marketing signify the places where we make a difference. Don’t you want to be a part of this kind of game-changing influence?

Let us know if you would be interested in unearthing marketplace impact and influence relevant to your brand and category. Together we can find a path to sustainable growth and business development.

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.

Brand storytelling must be emotionally relevant

Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot

January 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot”

Turning forgettable messaging into UNforgettable engagement…

The vast majority of brand communication fails to engage its intended audience. It’s like continuously pumping messaging fuel into a mental gas tank with a hole in the bottom. Why? Because it is inadvertently constructed to be quickly forgettable.

  • Numerous behavioral research studies confirm within an hour people forget more than half of the information they’ve read, seen or heard. That percentage rapidly accelerates as more time goes by. Pfft, gone.

The message creator hasn’t fully grasped the critical elements of compelling, memorable storytelling that respect with what we know about how people operate. Instead, they lean on fact-based, logical feature/benefit oriented pieces of communication that won’t intersect with the emotional drivers that secure engagement and trust.

Consider this: stories are 22 times more memorable than facts. But what constitutes great storytelling? The best of the best storytellers recognize they are interacting with humans and work to understand specifically what drives cognition and outcome. For one you have to move beyond the product “plot” to plant a beating heart in the brand story with consumer as hero.

You’re speaking to a human

The magic occurs when great communication engages the neurotransmitters that drive people towards and not away from what is being conveyed. The two most important physical elements of messaging brain chemistry are Dopamine and Oxytocin.

Dopamine is a ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that is produced when a person is expecting some kind of meaningful reward or pleasurable experience. Dopamine helps us strive, focus ourselves and find things interesting. It has a direct impact on learning, motivation, mood and attention. The key here is creating anticipation of a sought-after reward.

Oxytocin is a hormone that operates as a neurotransmitter. It is created when people hear and experience how much you appreciate and care about them. Unsolicited acts of kindness can be instrumental in building this response. Oxytocin is the precursor to enhancing empathy and trust. You already know how fundamentally important trust is to any kind of real brand-to-consumer relationship.

  • Do you still believe that fact-based arguments are the way to go? The information will begin to disappear from your customer’s head within an hour.

The most powerful example of this I’ve ever experienced was during our work for home safety products brand First Alert, and the introduction of the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm. It is a living illustration of the link between emotion, empathy and impact on behavior.

The carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning story is laced with facts about sources of this unseen gas in the home, how leaks occur, what happens in the human body when it is ingested, and what the impacts look like. Yet our message testing revealed that none of that held a candle to the power of a personal story about a Maine family who lost their eldest daughter in a CO poisoning incident.

The heart-wrenching narrative about what happened to this family made the case for protection from an invisible threat in a far more personally-compelling way than any fact or figure ever could. Relate-able emotion is a powerful and influential communications tool.

The path to better communication outcomes

What is your consumer looking for? People resonate to a desire for love, connection, acceptance, safety and happiness. The goal here is weaving together a story that encounters this insight in various ways.

Your cheese business is not selling cheese. You are using compelling visuals and copy to convey mouth-watering desire. You’re actually selling incredible taste experiences delivered in a shared social environment people crave. Your narrative wraps in beliefs and values that embed your brand with deeper meaning. This transcends the forgettable ‘buy my cheese’ message because you know people want to be a part of something greater than themselves.

  • Tone here is important. The more human you are in storytelling, the better. Vulnerability and honesty come in to play when you’re reaching for resonance and relevance. Give your audience experiences they can relate to, empathize with and recognize in their own lives.

Want to hear the voice of honest and human?

“Smart phones exist already and they’re stupid. But mine is smarter than your computer at home.” Steve Jobs, launch of the iPhone. Does Jobs employ facts, technology examples or recitation of features? No. He nails the proposition by creating a relate-able context of what was an astonishing revelation in its era. Beautiful.

Story structure

Here’s the question that must be answered in brand storytelling: how does your product change a person’s life? You are working to unearth the true “why” behind a consumer’s reason and desire to purchase.

Stories should address three fundamental elements:

  1. Set up – the problem your product solves. Think long and hard on a higher level about what this is.
  2. Conflict – create some tension around how you go about solving the problem. Is there a villain you can identify?
  3. Payoff – the happy outcome of what success is and what it feels like to prevail.
Remy and food passion
Passion, heart and soul create the basis for message engagement

The Pixar movie “Ratatouille” isn’t about a rat as chef

Yes, the central character Remy the rat can read cookbooks and has ongoing conversations with a famous French chef who is a figment of his imagination. The magic of this story is his love affair with food and flavor combinations. It is his passion for incredible taste experiences that drives him and the arc of the story.

He makes you want to cook, to pick up a knife and chop, to invent and create because of the romance he liberally dollops into his sauté pan. Pixar studios is famous for embedding heart and soul in its movies. What inevitably happens? You get invested, you care, you become engaged and feel empathetic for the characters involved.

  • This understanding of great storytelling is no less important and meaningful in business communications. Your brand deserves this kind of thinking and expression under what could become the unforgettable stories you tell.

If this approach resonates with you, Emergent employs a proprietary brand story telling process to tease out these great narratives and bring them to life. Use this link to find out more.

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.

Embracing strategic vision

Is the strategic vision you need an accident, anomaly or outcome?

January 5th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Transformation 0 comments on “Is the strategic vision you need an accident, anomaly or outcome?”

What’s percolating inside the people behind great leaps in business…

Most often we publish stories about marketing best practices, brand strategy, communications planning and our specialty – emerging trends. However, as we say good riddance to a year many of us prefer to see in the rearview mirror, we’d like to offer a different story about hope, encouragement and guidance for a more prosperous future in 2021.

  • The foundation of success and transformational change springs from a strategic vision that inspires leaps in growth and brand development. What is the unique alchemy that enables this kind of growth? Read on.                                                       

Does strategic vision descend from the heavens on a road near Damascus with a blinding light of revelation from on high?

Many of us in the marketing community have our favorite case studies that demonstrate strategic brilliance and imagination that serve as the foundation of great brands and businesses. Yet we also know that bold marketing moves happen periodically in many categories.

Are these happy accidents and moments of good fortune, bestowed by an unseen spiritual power as benevolent gift to a chosen few? No. Indeed visionary thinking and bold ideas come from the hearts and minds of those who are willing to lean in and break the conventions that can anchor brands to a form of floating, inert stasis in their category pool.

Witness the recent story in Forbes about the newly named Molson Coors Beverage Company, marking their transition from brewery-centric business to a broader and more inclusive portfolio of non-alcoholic, better-for-you brands. Led by visionary Pete Marino at the helm of their Emerging Growth unit, the company is now locked onto evolving consumer trends and preferences, while simultaneously adding value to their distributor relationships. Brilliant.

Game-changing thinking that moves brands and retailers to an improved trajectory is a very human adventure. At the root of all progress are people and teams who assemble the plans and strategies capable of out-sized leaps in growth.

Here we peel the onion on the requirements and conditions that lead to this level of result. At the heart of every great exploration in marketing ‘unchained’ (the kind that teams sign up for as passionate advocates on a mission) is a series of similar characteristics.

Who are you? Yes, you.

All of us have formative stories about who we are. Mine began in Edinburgh, Scotland where I was born. My parents lived there as expats while my father worked on his doctorate degree in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He was offered a teaching position, kicking off a back-and-forth adventure of living in Scotland during the school year, broken up by summertime trips back to the States. In those days the affordable voyages were on Cunard ocean liners for a six-day transatlantic crossing.

Home Sweet Home in Edinburgh, Scotland

From age zero to five I did this repeatedly, generating my own exploratory mindset. To wit, I got lost on the Queen Mary at four years of age, attempting a self-guided below-deck tour to try and find the engine room. Ships and trains were a passion. This innate curiosity remains steadfast in my own repertoire of behaviors. That, and a fondness for warmer destinations after the icy toddler years residing in an 18th century Georgian row house with no central heating. Brrrr!

Can you cite moments and experiences in your own life that helped form your point of view? Your ‘personal chemistry’ is a result of these imprints. Self-awareness of these events helps bring shape and understanding to why you do what you do. It is through this mindfulness that we come to understand how best to direct our strengths and performances.

The personal chemistry required to pursue a strategic leap usually includes a blend of the following:

  • Appetite for risk
  • Willingness to zig when everyone around you zags
  • Departing from convention
  • Thrill of new territory exploration
  • A desire to invent, create something new
  • A belief it can always be better

Confidence in your convictions

What is the common thread that runs through individuals who search for greater meaning and deeper values in the brands they guide? A passion to improve people’s lives and the world around us.

Convictions come in two varieties: first is an acquired point of view borne from study, research, soliciting the opinions of those you trust and listening to experts in your orbit you respect. The unfortunate second is a more rigid principle, an outcome of arrogance that you’re smarter than everyone else. Uff.

  • Great ideas and contributions to better thinking come from everywhere and anyone. As a marketing leader your humility is the first requirement to see and comprehend these nuggets of insight. Without this openness and curiosity, you are ultimately flying blind.
  • We are reminded of the incredible story of Richard Montañez, the erstwhile janitor at Frito-Lay who dreamed up the concept and recipe for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Richard had the temerity to contact the CEO after a C-suite request for innovative ideas from ‘anyone in the company’ and convinced the executive team to make an investment in this Latino market facing snack concept. It was one of Frito Lay’s biggest ever product launches. Richard is now a VP of Latino market sales for Pepsico. His conviction made it happen.

It is within an attitude of operating in service of others and the greater good that big ideas tend to manifest. When you’re able to connect strategy to improving people’s lives – serving unmet needs – you have the basic ingredients of a transformational leap in brand development.

This perspective offers the infrastructure of a mission and value system others will rally around. The convictions that emerge from this approach form the basis of an authentic higher purpose, one that can spell the difference in attracting a genuine community of real fans and advocates.

Convictions stirred with strategy are a strong mix.

Failure is your best friend

Do you believe that failure is a good thing? There is no greater teacher than failing. All of the wins you experience won’t add up to half the insight you will secure through failing and then adapting. If you think you should never fail, then you will never learn.

Fear of what others think or retribution or blame or criticism collectively act as a deep freeze on innovation and a willingness to step outside convention to break new ground. Failure is good and to be embraced as a teaching moment. It’s when you’re most open to insight and epiphany on how to improve. Admitting failure is a laudable character trait and provides the key to learning from mistakes or errors in judgement.

When I started Emergent it was on the back of an idea: I believed the entire food, beverage industry was standing on the edge of a sea change. People had connected the dots between what they ingest and the quality of their lives. The industry however was focused on features and benefits rather than devotion to health and wellness. This was the first business I started based on strategic insight (idea) rather than a large anchor client (cash flow). An adventure in bootstrapping. I thought the CPG world would beat a path to Emergent’s door.

In a word, no. Others I knew said “too niche, too focused, too anchored to an outlier idea.” It took years for the traction to begin to happen. It was no rocket sled – a humbling period of reflection and self-doubt. Every ounce of persistence would be required to march forward.

Say yes to risk and failure. You’ll sleep better for it. You’ll refine your understanding with it, evolve and improve.

Attend the Church of the Consumer

We love to talk about value creation in marketing. What value can there be in creation without putting the consumer at the center of this calling? Too many times companies turn inward, planning around their own self-interests, viewing the customer as a strict transactional outcome of sales and marketing. The blindness this causes is the reason why so many businesses eventually stall or never grow faster than the category in which they reside.

The consumer is not a walking wallet, they are our first priority. It is their needs and interests we are on the planet to serve. Your passion and willingness to invent on their behalf must be informed by deep understanding of their concerns, interests, needs, wants and desires.

  • To do this effectively requires investing time and resources in consumer anthropology
  • Your business model is constructed around your users and their needs
  • You instinctively look for ways to improve their lives
  • You care about their personal success and wellbeing
  • Your team sees this consumer-centric mission with clarity and dedication

This is much harder to do than it sounds. The pull of self-interest is very strong.

Study leads to epiphany

Great ideas don’t fall from the sky. Instead they are an outcome of examination, study, listening, observing, researching and absorbing. If you are open to change, wanting to test the limits and ready to take the required risks associated with innovating, then you’ll find a bigger picture forming.

Your passion and convictions must activate to bring others along on the journey. Yes, there will be attempts to kill new ideas along the way. There will be naysayers and resistance. However the strength of your story will hold sway.

Ideas are fragile. Keep the faith.

2021 is here, now is the time

When opportunities for strategic leaps move from concept to reality, you will have the opportunity to create momentum. This is what we all live for, strive to do and with it comes knowledge of our impact on people’s lives and in turn the growth of the business.

If you find this kind of thinking refreshing or inspiring, and want to bounce ideas off like-minded experts, use this link to open an informal conversation about your concept. We can help you build and refine, and bring a strategic game plan to life.

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.

Brand activism is on the rise

Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism

November 30th, 2020 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Differentiation, Emerging brands, engagement, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism”

Is your brand’s higher purpose dialed in?

“Food is now so much more than food: It’s this representation of the self. We’ve managed to use it as a signifier for so many virtues, whether that’s obvious ones like health or indulgence, but also ancestry and connection to kin and family, or the fact that you’re just a unique person out in the world.” – Benjamin Lorr, The Secret Life of Groceries, Grocery Business interview.

To successfully build and grow a base of enthusiastic brand fans these days consumer relevance is everything. In the absence of a high-quality consumer connection and a valued relationship, food, beverage and lifestyle brands can be cast out of the economic Garden of Eden, forced to wander in the wilderness of commodities interchangeably bought on price.

Now a new challenge is emerging to creating relevance that must be weighed carefully if brands are to retain the attention and support of a growing an influential new base of users. Here’s what’s coming fast and hard:

The Socialization of Brands

Six years ago we tracked a cultural shift indicating consumers were leaning heavily into deeper, meaning, values and mission in assessing the merits of their preferred brands on the path to purchase. This condition is rapidly evolving and is accelerated farther and faster as a result of Pandemic induced upheaval in mindset and evolving personal priorities.

COVID-19 presents an out-of-control social and economic environment. It is enhanced by the absence of effective readily available solutions and clear public policy guidance from previously respected sources of social organization, government and educational institutions. Into this societal vacuum comes a new form of behavior we call brand activism.

  • “COVID-19 has forced communities to grapple with how individual behavior impacts collective health and social wellness, and it has elevated the mandate that companies demonstrate how their products, practices and systems positively impact the community and support the greater good.” – Hartman Group, Value in the Time of COVID 19” whitepaper

Brands are now expected to be social actors.

“My Wallet is My Vote”

Imagine the checkout aisle at your supermarket or drug store transforming into a form of voting booth. The wallet and purchase performs the role of ballot-enhanced virtue signaling as consumers cast a vote on their brand candidate’s values through the purchases they make.

  • Purchases are largely symbolic gestures now, intended to telegraph what people want others to know about their priorities and identity. That said, the nature of this beast is evolving further with emergence of pressing issues that are forming on the horizon of our food system, how it operates and what it represents beyond abundance, indulgence and health.

The cultural shift taking place is a pervasive belief among people, Gen Z especially, that they are unique and empowered to help create change. Rather than relying on the performance of others or institutions, people look at their own relationships, networks and voices as opportunities to activate their advocacy on a larger canvas.

Alignment reaches a new level

Awhile back people discovered alignment between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. The impact of this revelation was seismic. Enter the fresh food revolution, the move to perimeter shopping at grocery, the emergence of preference for locally-sourced foods, and the decline of heavily processed packaged products.

Healthy food was no longer defined as addition by subtraction (or food science at work) to remove fat, sugar, salt and calories in order to achieve a better-for-you claim. In its place came higher quality real fresh food solutions that impacted the course of emerging food brands from large cap CPG line extensions to entrepreneurial, new food brands with an ethos and higher quality, small batch formulation.

Now another revolution is in the works as alignment evolves yet again.

The relationship of food to climate change threat

The alignment emerging now is awareness of a relationship between our current food system and the over-production of greenhouse gases that sit at the foundation of the climate change crisis. The increased pace of super storms, wildfires, droughts followed by floods, topsoil erosion, and the threats to shorelines advanced by higher water levels, serves as evidence the earth has its problems.

Now comes the realization that meat and industrial agricultural practices are the largest contributor to greenhouse gas creation on earth. The revelation: food production enabled by increased consumption by an ever-growing global population could endanger the planet. The food system specifically meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture, is producing greenhouse gas at a level exceeding the contribution of all forms of global transportation combined. Current GHG levels outstrip any prevailing public policy or naturally occurring solution that would lower it sufficiently to address rising earth temperatures and their impact.

  • As this knowledge becomes more widespread it will usher in a new era of calculation on favorable brand attributes, specifically carbon footprint. Advantage will go to brands that provide evidence of their sourcing and production processes that work to mitigate contributions to greenhouse gas creation.

Many plant-based brands have already stepped into this arena by invoking climate change in their stories. Some brands have already begun including carbon footprint claims on their product packaging or menus (Panera, Chipotle and Flora plant butter).

Fast on the move is another generation of new product concepts that employ the latest techniques in fermentation and microbe use designed to step away from the agricultural production chain entirely and thus advancing a new cadre of claims and benefits associated with climate change.

Brand activism and brand voice

We have long lauded those incredibly advanced brand ethos players like Yeti who have injected new-found lifestyle associations and deeper meaning into their brand personas. These companies take consumer lifestyle very seriously and operate as mirrors of people who, in Yeti’s case, are devoted to outdoor adventure – or at least aspire to do so.

Now a new battlefield emerges for brands that take the socialization of food and food production to a new level. These informed brands work to answer both the coming tide of planet-level food scarcity and the impact of our global agricultural system on greenhouse gas creation.

Thus we envision a new phalanx of emerging brands that weigh in on such important topics, working to associate themselves with the activist mindset of consumers wishing to vote their preferences via the food purchases they make.

Supporting regenerative agriculture practices will be one area we expect to rise in importance in the year ahead. The potential exists now to help support a new view of farming practices that can help turn farmland into the world’s largest carbon sink. These kinds of stories and the behavioral moves by brands to embrace this new thinking will mark a new era and opportunity in brand communication.

  • As consumers increasingly view purchases as a flag of their beliefs, it is vital that brand communication strategy advances to lead this conversation and facilitate the dialogue in social channels.

It’s coming faster due to the cultural shift now underway that aligns food production with climate change, making activism a part of the purchase decision. Failure to recognize this coming shift could put brand relevance at risk and hand competitive advantage to those who are already moving to answer this form of brand activism.

  • If further guidance on this evolving path is of interest to optimize your brand’s higher purpose-related messaging and story creation, we can help you determine the right path and create the right story.

Use this link to start a fresh conversation around questions you have about this emerging change-in-motion.

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

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

Marketing planning for 2021

Top five marketing resources to power your 2021 growth plans

November 18th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, engagement, Growth, Integrated Communications, Marketing Strategy, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Top five marketing resources to power your 2021 growth plans”

What you will require for success in the new year

Unprecedented complexity in marketing channels, platforms and media priorities can subtract from the confidence and clarity you need about where to make the best strategic investments. The potential for engagement misfires (wrong message, wrong channel) is at an all-time high and it seems as though every other day a new media platform rises to claim its narrow territory in an ever more fractured communications landscape.

  • You need a clear path and navigation chart to inform your decisions on where to invest precious marketing assets next year – when every dollar needs to perform like 10 and there’s not a lot of room to recover from mistakes.

We aim to provide specific guidance here.

Fortunately, the marketing game plan priorities are making themselves known. Today we have the benefit of hindsight to examine what tools performed to greatest effect in this uncommon year, and we also have a grip on where to place the marketing plan bets headed into 2021.

Here’s the most dramatic piece of evolutionary perspective unfolding for next year: what’s old is renewed again. I am personally ecstatic to see this change arrive. Read on.

I came up at Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), the first 11 years of my career bathed in the ample light of how David Ogilvy and his immensely talented colleagues saw the marketing universe. While David was a renowned and talented ad copywriter, he was first a business builder, problem solver with a remarkable grasp on the levers of how to grow a client company. He was indeed a holistic thinker.

David was forever espousing a point of view that we aren’t on the planet just to make advertising or PR. We’re here first to:

  • understand the challenges of business categories,
  • help incubate innovative product solutions,
  • understand the delicate emotional characteristics of brands,
  • navigate the cultural issues that impact company behavior,
  • and, inform and educate that most mysterious creature known as the consumer (“who is not a moron but rather your husband or wife,” says Ogilvy).

Said another way, a more myopic view would have us believing it’s all about the ad or PR creative product. Thus your proverbial marketing hammer comes back repeatedly to the same tactical nail. If that were true, our value as counselors, guides and business experts would deteriorate overnight and the agency business would be diluted to churning out cinematic representations of feature and benefit stories. Or the lesser digital display ad?!

Instead, we are tasked with being strategic guides who make our client’s business and category a deep and comprehensive ongoing study involving the mechanics of:

  • product creation and
  • market influences and
  • economic conditions and
  • cultural shifts and
  • competitive challenges and
  • the endless study of consumer and organizational behavior.

In short we are devoted to strategic investigations and assessments ahead of any conversation about a creative idea, in part for the very reason that all of that analysis nourishes enlightenment and leads to more relevant and powerful marketing ideas. The kind that make communications all the more effective at turning the screw of share and volume growth.

  • What’s the definition of a big idea? One that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact and change company behavior and the dynamics of the marketplace in which it competes. That’s a compelling adventure to join and why I appreciated what I learned while at O&M. Big ideas tend to bubble up in the midst of strategic business conversations.

However, with the growth of digital everything, over time the marketing guidance task largely contracted into a tactical role of managing the digital platform du jour and erstwhile electronic flag waving. In recent years the consultive forms of agency and client relationship have diluted in favor of operating a digital marketing automation dashboard. Execution driven assignments more so than operating within an authentic marketing partnership.

Well, all of that is about to change in 2021.

We’re entering an era where the importance of strategy and branding has re-emerged as the decisive lynchpin in priority and design of nearly every go-to-market plan. Why? The toolbox game has fallen in on itself under the sheer weight of so many options competing for eyeballs at a time when consumers are tiring of the relentless barrage. People are tuning out entirely the self-serving, self-reverential bullhorn of marketing message social channels. They reflexively reject that interruption right out of the gate.

The Pandemic has also lowered the tolerance boom on brand self-promotion – while rewarding efforts by enlightened brands that closely align themselves with higher purpose values and drive deeper meaning into their brand story and behavior.

What worked and what’s coming next year

A recent national survey of agencies conducted by SharpSpring revealed universally the most effective outreach tool deployed in 2020 was paid social. Not a surprise given the importance people place on social conversation, the levels of engagement there (which also correlates with the consumer’s prevailing interest in dialogue) and hearing the experiences of others to inform their purchase decisions.

Looking ahead at next year, this same study drilled down to what is likely to be in demand by clients in the year ahead, which also bears remarkable similarity to what clients are prepared to outsource to their agencies.

The re-emergence of strategy and branding as a top priority activates to assure marketing investment decisions will, indeed, deliver on their engagement objectives. This helps to measurably influence purchase decisions at a time when the consumer’s view of what matters is rapidly evolving.

Taste, price and convenience used to drive food and beverage purchases. Now those triggers are overtaken by a host of new more issue-like considerations such as health and wellness, transparency, purpose and values, supply chain integrity, sustainability and food safety.

  • Add to this an emerging concern about climate change and the impact of our current food production system on greenhouse gas (GHG) levels – meat production is by far the largest single contributor followed by agriculture. The food system creates more GHG than all of the global transportation systems (cars, trains, airplanes, etc.) combined.

We are seeing a rise in consumer demand for change addressing their concern to know what the carbon footprint is of the foods we consume. More on this topic to come from us.

Meantime, the verdict is in on resources to receive the most attention and likely investment in 2021 while brands continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic on preferences, shopping and purchase behavior.

The top five marketing needs for 2021

  • Marketing strategy: this begins with insight into consumer behavior and cultural shifts taking place that impact what people care about, and what they expect of the brands that matter to them. Active participation on issues like climate change will be one of them.
  • Branding: the role of higher purpose and deeper meaning are now critical to your business and brand voice. This is not a “nice to have” but a core strategic platform to secure relevance and engagement at a time when people expect brands to participate in making our world a better place.
  • Social media management: social media is a top priority and has remained so for some time now. How brands engage here, support community growth and encourage user generated content, will play a critical role in trust creation. Trust is a top objective and this channel is part of the solution. It’s remarkable that at one time the idea of actually talking directly to a brand’s consumer was virtually unheard of. When it finally arrived many brands looked upon it skeptically as a scary and potentially treacherous and uncontrollable development. My, how times have changed.
  • PR and reputation management: trust is the currency of any brand relationship. It is a requirement. Now harder to earn and maintain, the scrutiny and filters being applied by consumers seeks to determine whether a brand’s activism is messaging masquerading as champion of a cause – or is it real where the brand behavior matches the rhetoric. A recent IBM study on purpose reports that when consumers think a brand has a strong and authentic purpose, they are 4.1 times more likely to trust the company.
  • Digital advertising and re-targeting: a strong and verifiable correlation exists between awareness and velocity performance at retail. The more present and top of mind your brand is, the more likely this recognition will convert to a sale, assuming other considerations on purpose, values and trust are properly aligned. People live online. That bit of behavior enhanced by shelter in place and work or school from home conditions is why digital channels are having a heyday.

Brand activism on the rise      

An important strategic focus in 2021 will be where your brand sits on the fence of increased calls for activism on societal issues. Generation Z, the most woke generation of all, is decidedly focused on this and will be voicing their sentiments in the purchases they make. Their wallet is their vote and symbolic flag to those around them about what they consider to be important.

  • A recent study from Zeno Group found that for brands of comparable quality and pricing, 91% of consumers will switch if one of those brands supports an important cause. That might as well be 100%.

Here’s another way to look at it:

The more activist a brand is, the more earned media attention it’s likely to secure. This leads to greater visibility and brand awareness in trusted media channels – which in turn will help drive recognition leading to higher sales outcomes. All of this is happening in a media model that is derived at lower cost (compared to traditional media) thus helping wring more benefit out of tight budget resources.

The key is how real the brand’s activism is vs. an attempt to “message” around it without the anchoring back-up of verifiable brand behavior. Fake activism is discoverable and can (will) backfire.

If a conversation on 2021 planning priorities would be helpful to your decision making, we would welcome the conversation. Use this link and let’s start a conversation.

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

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

Substance overtakes stunts

Substance Over Stunt: The new era of marketing

October 7th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Growth, Higher Purpose, Insight, Integrated Communications, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Substance Over Stunt: The new era of marketing”

Help not hype defines the path to engagement victory

In 2008 Johnsonville Sausage famously conducted the classic publicity stunt of outsized proportions, building a giant grill on north Michigan Avenue in Chicago, with plans to drop an equally giant brat (from a crane) on the grill to celebrate the official start of BBQ season. I saw it, my office was two blocks away. Does this qualify as different? Yes. Was it super-sized in hopes of adding drama? Yes. Was the intention to create the requisite “Buzz” in the media? Yes.

Did it fulfill its objective? I think not. Media were critical rather than faithful reporters of the intended message. The stunt was a less effective vehicle for the very reason people were increasingly interested in substance over spectacle. The event was in some ways a marker of the end of the stunt as a path to PR glory, and perhaps a harbinger of change as consumer and media interest in the more blatant forms of brand self-promotion was shifting. Aside from a few mishaps on delivery drop of said brat to grill, it was inevitably a shameless publicity maneuver.

A moment of honest reflection: during the golden era of stunt strategy, we leveraged a summertime event called Molson Chiller Beach Party in Miami for client Molson Beer. We put 10 tons of snow on Miami Beach in July, positioning a TV satellite truck on the sand to capture images of what appeared to be a snow descending on Miami Beach. Video scenes of men and women making snowmen and snow angels on the beach were edited in real time for a package we titled Freak Snowstorm in Miami. Satellited to TV stations around the country, the video story aired in more than 100 markets that day.

The real goal, though, wasn’t just simple brand awareness. We were creating a compelling, powerful story for beer distributors to demonstrate that the Molson brand was relevant and resonant in a market far from their core volume territory in nine cities close to the Canadian border. Our video drama added to the sales team presentation securing a larger Molson share and investment in their import beer programs. That was then. Now, the path to consumer engagement has changed.

Substance overtakes hoopla

The world of effective marketing has advanced. People have changed, which demands that marketing best practices advance with them. At one time, how brands typically engaged with consumers was focused on interruption, hyperbole, entertainment, assertions and at times, crazy stunts in a belief that any publicity was good publicity. Buzz was seen as a component of hype, driven often by some form of outrageous display.

Marketing that works effectively is more successful now when it coalesces on authentic help for the consumer over media hype. People lead busy and complex lives. What they need is guidance, help, advice, coaching, training, ideas, support and empowerment. Your brand’s relevance to them is connected to how you become a useful and valued partner on their life journey.

If this sounds like a more mature form of relationship, I think you would be right. We have evolved and improved in that respect – more thoughtful and interested in overcoming our problems and challenges than being influenced by headlines falling from ‘the largest, biggest, tallest______________.”

Utility = valuable-ness

Real engagement is a form of acknowledged partnership. People grant you their precious and valuable attention in return for something that makes them better. This quid pro quo is an exchange founded in reciprocity and constructed on help or community-building that satisfies our inner need to tell the world around us what we stand for, what we care how about, what our values and beliefs say about us.

A brand that has trimmed its audience definition and scope to a narrower segment of true, committed fans has a shot at mattering. This approach works because in most product categories that escape the debilitating rust of commodity sold on price, a majority of the sales and profit is delivered by a smaller cohort of engaged enthusiasts. Some examples:

  • Kitchen commanders
  • Pet lifestyle buffs
  • Outdoor adventure seekers
  • Health and wellness advocates
  • Exercise aficionados
  • Fashionistas

You get the idea. Call them geeks or fans or ambassadors, the unifying characteristic is their innate interest in and devotion to these lifestyle associations. Your goal is to get close, real close to who they are and what they care about. Your ability to walk in their shoes and operate in service of their interests is the grist for content marketing that works.

Your brand voice is optimized when you separate the help from hype, the social proof from brand assertion, earnest helpful guidance from brand self-promotion. Only then, can your brand be perceived as and appreciated for contributing in real ways to the consumer’s journey. Think about it:  what is media hype but a disposable form of awareness with no shelf life. It’s there and then gone. What has been achieved? A moment of ‘I saw you’?

  • Your desire for buzz or recognition or mention is better served by enabling and contributing to the things your best users care about.

Perhaps the most famous stunt of all time was the Stratos Jump by Red Bull when Felix Baumgartner launched himself from a helium balloon 124,000 feet above earth, televised to more than 8 million viewers many of whom might remember the stunt – but not the advertiser or product. Was the reported $65 million cost worth it? If you’re selling a product that tastes like melted gummy bears to an adventure-seeking consumer, maybe.

For the rest of us, meeting the heart and mind of your customer in authentic ways that contributes measurably to their quality of life is another form of ‘adventure’ – but decidedly more relevant and valued than simple awareness.

If you find yourself asking questions about how to build buzz, we can help you answer that objective with insight and ideas that connect at a human level. Use this link and let’s start a helpful and hype-free conversation.

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

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

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