Posts tagged "brand strategy"

The return of brand investment

After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back

September 18th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Consumer insight, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back”

Consumers are human beings, not data points

As part of our ongoing series devoted to strategic planning guidance, we bring a mission critical recommendation on where to place your planning emphasis for 2022:

Brand building has returned to the fulcrum of marketing and business strategy leadership. After a decade of holding all the cards as a budget and plan priority, digital performance marketing has lost a bit of its luster. Customer acquisition costs are on the rise. There’s also a companion decline in the supply of digital ad inventory.

The creative deployment of your brand as ultimate differentiator and emotional connector should return to the strategic planning front burner.

Rethinking the path to business growth

  • Brand building: securing your position, uniqueness, values, mission and emotional equity.
  • Performance spending: driving the conversion funnel and revenue metrics.

These two approaches are not necessarily fighting one another. Both can enhance the outcomes of the other. Consumers, however, are the deciders. Their behaviors inevitably tipped the scale in favor of enhanced brand building. Now over-saturated and swimming in an ocean of digital content, people have evolved looking for deeper meaning and values in the brand relationships they care about. Digital native brands like Allbirds and Warby Parker saw this coming and pivoted to focus on brick-and-mortar retail so they can create richer in-person experiences with their brands.

Brands have always been valuable – but in recent years lost their priority in the marketing plan to the ease and electronic allure of digital data ROI claims. The untold part of this story: tech platforms usurped the essential role of brand building investment, ushering in another consequence: the splintering of agency partner resources. A thousand platform specializations emerged as companies looked for the next shiny new tech Saas solution that promised glorious, algorithm and data-driven performance.

Thus, marketers also found themselves managing a disparate cadre of specialists du jour – a digital ad firm, digital media vendor, a social media agency, a PR agency, an influencer agency, a brand collaboration firm, et al. What’s the net result of all these different tactical players and layers? A soup of varying voices and fragmented messaging that increasingly sounds like a confederation of a thing, and a thing, and a thing – opposed to a unified, consistent and differentiated brand.

Time to think differently!

The transition to brand investment is being helped along by Apple’s no tracking opt-out privacy move and Google’s coming shutdown of cookies that suspends individual tracking in favor of a cohort-based system (shared tastes).

These modifications to digital stalking of user behavior are ultimately a good thing for the health and growth of your business, and here’s why: it’s time to reinvest in your brand, the single most important ownable and differentiating asset you have in an otherwise vast sea of equivalency and similarity.

  • Marketers are learning the absence of real strategic investment in developing brand distinction and deeper experience is now holding them back from optimal growth results and competitive advantage.

Why?

Brands are uniqueness generators, deeper meaning vessels and trust-creating reservoirs of mission and values. You are operating in a consumer world increasingly drawn to aligned, kindred and symbol-inspired relationships – more so than transactional, follow-me-around-the-web ‘buy me now’ offers.

What dampened the primacy of brand building in the first place?

A digitally-enabled explosion of performance marketing tools pushed communications and content to a tactical model founded on conversions and revenue metrics. See you later, brand building. Hello targeting, tracking and clicks.

The great promise of infinite ROI on digital ad spending with Facebook and Google spawned a proliferation of specialist ad tech firms all looking for their piece of the eyeball pie – retargeting, digital media buying, affiliate programs –all while brand support took a raincheck.

Furthermore, the marketplace bar for entry of new brands became so incredibly low, it fomented a tsunami of digital ad content that is piling up in consumer feeds – all clamoring for a sliver of limited time and attention. Very noisy. Transactional. Less engaging and lacking lifestyle relevance.

Guidance for your brand strategy planning effort

As a general rule radical differentiation, higher purpose and emotional connection are the three legs on which to center your strategic plan.

  • Differentiation is essential to separation and standing out – consumers will notice you
  • Higher purpose imbues your brand with deeper meaning and values – how they trust you
  • Emotion is at the center of what drives consumers to act, make decisions – humans are feeling creatures who think

The goal of your planning is to optimize strategy for greatest impact. To enhance equity and the values your brand exudes. To create attraction, allure and stickiness. To win hearts because it’s always heart-over-head.

Here are four areas of focus that will help you win with a stronger brand:

  1. Aligned values

Insight research continues to reinforce that consumers’ care deeply about shared values and mission. They want to know what you believe in, what you stand for, that you have a soul which transcends commerce. They “wear” your brand as a symbol and flag to the world around them about what they value. What meaning are you giving them, and is it aligned with their beliefs

2. Experience satisfaction

Are they happy with the product-use experience, with the purchase journey, are you easy to do business with, do you put them first in ways that are both unselfish and also obvious to them? Do they learn from you? Is your brand a guide, coach and enabler of activities, experiences that matter to them? You are providing more than a product.

3. Memorable messaging

How do you stand out and engage people? The consumer is the hero of your brand story – it should be about their needs, wants and aspirations. Your brand’s role in the relationship is as guide and advisor to help them achieve their goals and ambitions. Neuroscience tells us that 98% of actions taken by consumers comes from an emotional response, not an analytical one. Is your communication informed by emotional messaging.

4. Your brand’s share of culture

What is the social conversation about your brand? What people are seeing and hearing about your brand in the micro-communities of influence that they belong to? It is critical to the ecosytem “buzz” they encounter. People respect the voices of their peers and credible experts. For the very reason that nearly 100% of the time the primary motivation in deciding what to buy is their fear of making a bad decision. You need to build a sphere of trust.

If these ideas and concepts resonate with you, now is a good time to bring some fresh thinking and perspective to investing in your brand. Use this link to tell us what concerns you have, what keeps you up at night. We can help you map the right path to brand growth, which is linked directly to your business outcomes.

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.

Planning for consumer behavior relevance

8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning

September 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Influencers, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning”

How to amplify your 2022 marketing outcomes…

We’re in the thick of strategic planning season as food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers finalize their go-to-market strategies for the year ahead.

  • How do you ensure your plans will deliver the most benefit for every precious dollar invested?
  • What are the optimal elements in a marketing plan that will secure consumer and trade partner engagement?
  • What are the must-have components to deliver on your business objectives?

Here we examine the eight key elements of a marketing plan that removes risk and installs trust – a must-have on the road to business success no matter what stakeholder audience you are working to influence.

  1. Business objectives assessed alongside barriers to growth

Far too many marketing plans begin with declarations of business targets served up in a manner that implies it’s simply a matter of turning on the advertising faucet to deliver on the intended outcomes. A richer and more productive internal discussion will occur if the objectives are included alongside an honest, real-world assessment of the barriers that exist to delivering them.

Mind you, there are always barriers. No one goes to market in a vacuum free of systemic challenges and threats to success. It is in this act of realism and reflection that the executive team has a useful discussion on what must be overcome in order to win in the year ahead. This works to remove what we characterize as “hope-ium” from the plan discussion and gets everyone focused on contributing to ways of mitigating or navigating around the threats.

2. Competitive analysis with a unique purpose

Intentional or not, in many categories there is a fair amount of sameness that exists among brands matching competitor moves with comparable programs, product offerings and messages. If a brand is set up from the start for radical differentiation, then the chances of stepping into the similarity trap can be averted. Resemblance is an ongoing challenge in marketing. When communications is close enough that brands could literally interchange competitor names and the key message still works, you know a problem exists.

Instead, competitive analysis should be focused on looking for unmet needs and whitespace opportunities to zig when everyone else in the segment zags. Your goal is to be different. (No, really, really different.) And in doing so, stand out in a sea of category sameness.

3. Importance of consumer anthropology

Perhaps the most important element of all in marketing planning is the right kind of research to help inform strategy. This isn’t about data crunching around demographics of shopper populations. Relevance and resonance are everything to dialing in your communications plan for optimum impact. This simply can’t be done without the kind of insight research that truly peels the onion on your best users’ lifestyle concerns, passions, interests and desires. Users are humans not data points. You will get further by imbuing your brand with deeper meaning that reflects the values and beliefs of your heaviest users. To know them, literally, is to love them.

These cohorts are often the most important to your profit plan as they usually represent those who bring the highest volume and repeat purchase behaviors. The role of your brand is as coach, guide, educator and enabler on their lifestyle journey. You can’t do that without gaining insight into how they think, behave and what they care about. This is different than pushing analytical, fact-based messaging at them on formulation or technology specs. It’s always heart-over-head. All humans are emotional creatures who think and not the other way around.

4. The ‘culture shift’ imperative

Trends are far more important than ever before to influencing consumer preferences. Media influences the crowd and where the crowd of like-minded users goes will simply attract more and more ‘followers’ (this means the social conversation that’s going on matters to your strategic game plan). Right now, sustainability could not be more important as a culture change signal.

A large swath of the consuming public is enamored with sustainability behaviors, policies and standards created by brands to help mitigate their impact on carbon contributions and the environment. It is imperative that food brands with a heavy investment in meat ingredients take this into consideration. Just be careful not to invoke sustainability as a priority ahead of having the right science-based assessments of your carbon footprint. You want to avoid falling into the greenwashing trap. Sustainability is now associated with climate impacts.

5. Brand higher purpose discovery and refinement

Purpose-built branding is not a nice to have any longer. It is a vital construct that sits underneath your organization as a true north of why the company exists. Important to note, purpose is always built around a real human-relevant insight and not a corporate axiom like increasing shareholder returns. It has nothing to do with philanthropy and cause marketing. It has everything to do with a purpose that transcends the product offering and is married to how you improve your customers’ lives and the world around you.

More often than not, we find this key strategy that informs everything the company and brand stands for is under-nourished or treated as a cause-related project. The key questions to address:

  • Why are you in business (this isn’t just about business growth)?
  • How do you deliver on your why?
  • What business are you really in based on your why?

A Higher Purpose platform should be embedded in everything you do across the organization.

6. Evaluating spheres of influence

The internet has fractured the consumer world into micro-communities of shared interests and passions. It is in these communities where people filter, find and decide what to buy. There are influencers within these communities who are important to discovery and trial, to establishing the definitions of what is better and why.

The marketing plan should include an evaluation of these micro-communities and the leading voices within them. Here your brand should engage as a contributor to the conversation. Relationships should be built with the leading voices, not to co-opt them but gain their trust.

7. Assessment of outside third-party expert voices and contributors

Trust is harder than ever to achieve. 99.9999 percent of the time consumers are operating with one goal in mind – to avoid making a bad decision. Brands should engage the voices of outside experts and credible authorities to verify and validate what you want consumers to believe about your brand, business and Higher Purpose. These voices can add a layer of credibility to your content marketing plans and pull in a note of clout to key messages you wish to convey.

How these relationships are created and deployed is key. Be careful not to position these voices as brand promoters who come across like paid shills. They are there to validate, to deliver authentic “reports” on what you are doing. Trusted voices are essential to building belief, and trust is fundamental to your success.

8. A word about KPI’s

These days it’s standard fare to embed your evaluations with digital data given its availability across all of the social and content platforms where you deploy communications. Levels of perceived engagement are relatively easy to come by based on online behaviors. People, however, can also be fickle and unpredictable.

Creating a baseline of consumer insight research is invaluable not only to better understand what makes your users tick, but also to go back in later and assess changes in attitudes and behaviors over time.

These evaluations carry more horsepower because they dig into shifts in priorities, interests and activity on the path to purchase and whether or not your key messaging is getting traction.

All of this great work feeds creativity and informs strategy. It can lead your business to leaps in share. New users will enter the fold because your brand truly stands out for all the right reasons in a category where many players tend to blend together.

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.

Principles of Brand Higher Purpose

What Marketers Keep Missing about Higher Purpose

August 24th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Customer Experience, Customer Journey Map, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transformation, Validation 0 comments on “What Marketers Keep Missing about Higher Purpose”

Why are brands getting it wrong more often than right?

Brand Higher Purpose is a vital strategic concept that will inform the success of modern relevant and growing businesses. Surprisingly, we discover it is frequently misappropriated or left unattended. Why? Brands can be held captive by strategies handcuffed to transactional thinking that intentionally or not, views consumers as merely walking wallets. This, however, occurs at a time when brand trust is at an all-time low. Facts are, the dynamic of how consumers relate to brands has moved on to a more enlightened relationship-based approach founded on reciprocity and mutual self-interest. Yet many brands are still operating on CPG marketing principles that are 30 years old.

What is Higher Purpose exactly and how do you deploy it to build your brand and business? We unpack the DNA of Higher Purpose best practices here.

The Foundation of Higher Purpose

Cultural changes are among the most important bellwether conditions brands must constantly study to remain vital and resonant to users. It’s why the Emerging Trends Report exists. Yet this important cultural sea change impacting food, beverage, lifestyle and related retail categories has languished in a backwater of misinterpretation. While Higher Purpose is a priority marketing asset, it is an all-too frequently underleveraged strategy.

The current era of purpose-built branding was presaged in a 2017 landmark study on food and beverage purchase behaviors authored by Deloitte Consulting and the Food Marketing Institute (rebranded now as Food Industry Association). Their report quantified and qualified what Emergent was already reporting: a seismic shift in consumer preferences and behaviors on the path to purchase. For decades, taste, price and convenience were the dominant consumer purchase motivators for food and beverage brands. This condition helped perpetuate the magnetic hold of large cap legacy brands that were inherently terrific at consistency and mass media awareness-building over time.

As issues and values began to hold sway over consumer preferences, we saw these new attributes surpass the historic patterns of buying motivation. The Deloitte/FMI study revealed that transparency, health and wellness, food safety, sustainability and visibility to the supply chain were eclipsing the traditional taste/price/convenience model on the path to purchase.

When issues, values and beliefs are as important, if not more so, than the product performance itself, what does that tell you? A cultural change has taken root and with it the advancement of purpose-built branding now supported with actionable consumer insight data. Yet still this strategic construct remains frustratingly anemic – rather than executed with skill and authenticity.

When brand purpose is defined as an unselfish, human-relevant purpose, great things can happen!

Higher Purpose is different than the transactional model that has dominated CPG and retail marketing plans for decades. It presents us with a more human-like path to brand building founded on reciprocity and contributing to the growth, welfare and quality of life of the people brands exist to serve.

To gain context, let’s first describe what Brand Higher Purpose is NOT:

  • Philanthropy or “cause” marketing
  • Another word for ESG commitments
  • A mission statement
  • A brand positioning
  • A campaign tagline or theme
  • Code for better PR strategies
  • Issues management

Brand Higher Purpose is founded in deep consumer insights about the lifestyle needs, aspirations and concerns that govern the lives of a brand’s best users. It is in this understanding that brand Purpose can be authentically defined and brought to life.

Two key issues to examine:

  • Your users want more from you than your good product. Are you prepared to give them the ‘more’ they seek and add deeper meaning to what your business stands for, does and works to accomplish for your users’ greater good?
  • If your brand value proposition is linked to your best users’ beliefs and values, and in the spirit of reciprocity – how would that impact your business operations and behaviors?

The three primary components of Higher Purpose creation:

  • Why your company exists, in the context of insight to your core users’ beliefs, values and aspirations.
  • How your company delivers on its why (purpose) through tools and strategies designed to bring your purpose to life.
  • What business are you really in based on your purpose, and how does that impact your operations, policies, standards, in-market behaviors and marketing?

Imagine the food retailer that determines it is in business to fully support the health, wellbeing and culinary creativity of its core shoppers. What tools and strategies would it deploy to bring this to life in education, product assortment and in-store communication and experiences?

Knowing this, what business is the retailer really in – knowing that the customer relationship is deeper than merely selling at velocity bags, cans and boxes off shelves?

Think of the impact this has on brand voice and meaning. What happens when the brand’s values and beliefs fully align with what consumers care about and aspire to become? What happens when a pet food brand determines it is in the pet lifestyle enablement business rather than selling high quality kibble and canned meals? It opens an entirely new conversation with consumers based on brand as partner, coach and guide on their pet parenting journey.

This is where relevance and resonance lives!

If you want to have a deeper relationship with your consumers, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning. To do this successfully the consumer must be at the center of strategic planning. Your goal is to define how the brand facilitates your consumers’ lifestyle needs and concerns.

Dove brands’ higher purpose revolves around supporting the self-esteem goals of its user base. Notice how this issue sits adjacent to but distinctly apart from the product attributes and benefits.

It’s always going to be a real, authentic, human-relevant purpose that sits above commerce!

Brand Sustainability Analysis

Emergent created a proprietary planning tool for helping clients determine the right higher purpose strategy based on brand history, strengths, consumer base, business operations and current marketing strategies.

We use this tool to define Higher Purpose for a brand and then how it will influence literally every aspect of how a company operates, creates products, innovates, treats it employees and goes to market.

If you want to learn more about the path to Higher Purpose, download a complimentary copy of our Brand Higher Purpose overview that summarizes the insights and strategies for a stronger, better and more effective brand marketing platform.

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.

The barrier to climate investment is fear

What is the biggest barrier to sustainability investments?

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

…It isn’t the supply chain or manufacturing

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

The word is fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability may now be the most popular term in modern marketing

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

Fear of change

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

Fear of risk

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

Fear of truth

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

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

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine…

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

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

How can this be true?

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

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

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

In a sentence: sustainability is good for business.

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

Is this going to be expensive for our economy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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