Posts tagged "Change management"

Pet Industry Experts Forecast Future

May 14th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, e-commerce, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, shopper behavior 0 comments on “Pet Industry Experts Forecast Future”

Recession-proof category, but winners and losers

You probably sat down this morning at your kitchen-table-home-office, like every morning nowadays, looking at the screen in front of you like it’s a crystal ball. You’re hoping to conjure certainty in the face of little and gaze at a future with well-defined outcomes and assurances. This can be hard to come by. On occasion it helps to have some of the most experienced minds in your industry offer perspective.

Emergent asked four leading voices in the pet care business to weigh in on current conditions and provide their observations on where the business is headed for the balance of 2020. Helpful news ahead – we summarize the key takeaways at the end of this article.

Despite the economic chaos and roller-coaster conditions at retail, one thing remains steadfast and true – people assign a higher pocketbook priority to furry family members.

The headline: despite the pandemic impact on businesses generally, pet food remains on a trajectory to finish the year ahead of 2019. That said, there will be winners and losers in the battle to come. Retailers and pet parents will remember those brands which were there for them, that communicated to build trust, supported them and remained present – and those which didn’t.

Out of sight is out of mind and some brands have gone underground in the last two months, creating an open invitation for more progressive players to step in and take share. As you plan for what lies ahead, here are assessments and recommendations from experts the industry relies on for guidance.

Participating in this report are:

Mark Kalaygian, Editor-in-Chief, Pet Business

Lindsay Beaton, Editor, Petfood Industry

Glenn Polyn, Editor-in-Chief, Pet Age

Jennifer Semple, Editor, Pet Food Processing

It’s a time of uncertainty and contradictions

  1. Pet brands are trying to navigate uncertainty in the supply chain (meat packing plant closures) on one side and retail sell-through on the other. What’s your best take on the state of the industry’s health and what do you foresee happening in the next six months?

Mark Kalaygian: “Based on what I’m seeing, the industry is quite healthy. All reports are that the supply chain is holding up nicely, with minimal, isolated disruptions caused by logistical issues, as opposed to production problems.” While e-commerce has picked up momentum, “I believe when stay-at-home orders relax, traditional shopping patterns will return,” he reports. “That said emphasis on omni-channel strategies are important when people have a more limited number of shopping excursions.”

Lindsay Beaton: “While stay-at-home orders and social distance concerns may have prevented some people from getting to physical stores, e-commerce saw 77% growth in March as people stockpiled. However choppy sales conditions may continue for the rest of the year.  My gut is pet food companies should look at their e-comm strategies not just for now but as a new standard for doing business.”

Glenn Polyn: “Pet brands are in a good place, all things considered. Any who may be under duress were probably struggling before the pandemic happened.” The grain-free segment, one of the industry’s strongest categories over the last decade, took a sales hit following DCM-related media reports. “Those who were already more impacted by a DCM (grain-free) slow-down may be experiencing added pressures,” he said.

Jennifer Semple: “Pet food is typically a recession-proof industry and is expected to remain one. Package Facts is still projecting 4% growth for the year.” Knowing the importance of impulse buying to some more discretionary categories at retail, “treat sales may well be soft until consumers have a comfort level to go out and shop at the store,” she said.

  1. On the one hand we have evidence that the value proposition for pet ownership is at an all-time high and pet rescue and shelters are seeing a surge in adoptions, yet we’re also observing evidence of balance sheet strain such as some retailers cutting headcount and reducing employee hours. What do you think is impacting the conditions between growing enthusiasm for pets in the home and pet food category fiscal health?

Mark Kalaygian: “The high levels of quality time people are spending with pets, and new ones in the household, could lead to a trade up in food quality to brands carried (mostly) at independents.” Right now, FDM (Food Drug Mass) channels are experiencing a lot of traffic based on consumer response to stay-at-home orders, “there is SKU overlap between big box chain (Petco, etc.) and FDM channel that could create some erosion for big box if FDM shopping patterns persist. We saw a similar dynamic play out during the ‘08/’09 recession. We think food sales will remain strong. However, it will be (increasingly) important to optimize channel strategy,” he explained.

Lindsay Beaton: “It’s true that animal shelters all over the U.S. are seeing adoptions and fosters in numbers they’ve possibly never seen before. Many shelters had to reduce staff or shut down entirely to protect their human workers and volunteers when the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading. The best way to look after their animals was to get them into private homes. With employees suddenly telecommuting or with reduced work hours, communities responded heartily. At the same time, these (temporary or otherwise) pet owners were unable to get to physical stores to take care of their new furry companions. The current conditions have served to speed up an already-occurring migration to online channels.”

Glenn Polyn: “The retailers I have spoken to tell me that their sales are on a roller coaster ride that changes daily. One day there might be a huge wave of customers clearing the shelves only to be followed by the slowest of days with hardly any sales. Some retailers may be cutting staff, and that’s to be expected as customers are mostly going to be seeking necessities. And the fact that pet owners aren’t always walking up and down aisles means they aren’t going to be impulse buying. Considering the pandemic is such a unique event, the wave of adoptions might not be permanent once the nation returns back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Jennifer Semple: “Boston Consulting and IRI reported a surge in pet food sales during March, likely due to panic buying, and followed by a dip. Pet ownership levels are strong but many of the opportunities for impulse purchasing and trying new pet foods and treats are suppressed right now without as many people browsing in physical stores. As communities open up, the drive to feed, nurture and pamper pets will help revitalize the industry. In the near term I expect pet brands will focus on their best sellers, while tracking how consumers are spending.”

  1. What is your best advice to pet food companies working to optimize their plans and navigate current market uncertainty? If you were CEO, what are the top three moves you would make?

Mark Kalaygian: “Going forward, a strong, clear channel strategy is in order in light of e-commerce growth. Independent pet specialty retailers were already paying close attention to how pet food companies were balancing their approach to omni-channel sales before the pandemic struck, and that is only going to increase in the months ahead.

“If I were running a pet food business I would focus on the following: Make sure the supply chain is consistent and working across all retail segments and partners, and not just the larger accounts. No independent pet retailer wants to deal with product shortages while a bigger competitor down the street enjoys high fill rates.

“With a fair amount of overlap already I would consider how to create uniqueness and distinctiveness for brands in independent vs. big box channels.

“Given the growth and shift to e-commerce shopping I would make an added effort to help independents compete more effectively with online specialists.”

Lindsay Beaton: “According to a recent PFI survey, only 11.9% of pet food manufacturers cited ingredient shortages or inconsistent supply as a top challenge. That said it’s better to be prepared with multiple options should any supplier conditions change.

“If I were a pet brand CEO, I would pay attention to:

“Anyone who was already set up for e-commerce had a significant leg up when the pandemic hit and everyone started staying at (and shopping from) home. Now a much larger portion of the pet-owning population has come to understand their e-tail options. Subscription purchasing surged 28% in March.

“It seems wise for pet brands to either be doing business on the larger e-comm platforms or helping specialty retailers make sure their e-commerce platforms are robust and marketed well.

“According to market surveys, by and large consumers are pleased with the way their brands of choice are handling the COVID-19 situation and want to continue hearing from them. When people head online it also means they are doing research there, checking influencer sites, reading product reviews, browsing social channels so it’s important to have your marketing house in order.”

Glenn Polyn: “Communication is vital. CEOs need to ensure the brand message is getting across to both pet owners and to retailers. On the one hand, you want to help consumers realize their pet lifestyle goals to keep pets happy and healthy, and perhaps share their stories on social media channels. Not to be overlooked, now is also the time to create well-written, engaging, interesting stories that help retailers and distributors understand how the company values (and understands) their efforts and how their concerns and needs are being supported.”

Jennifer Semple: “If I were making the calls at a pet food company, I would communicate, communicate, communicate. I would frequently talk to distribution partners, retail owners, competitors and friends in the business to gauge what is resonating with customers, what the customer concerns are, how their purchasing habits are evolving, and I would optimize my processing efforts to better serve what I’m seeing in the market.

“I would also look to diversify to meet another product need, serve another distribution or sales channel, or identify how I could help another company serve their customers better by manufacturing for them.

“Another priority would be to rally the troops within the company. Be open with where the company currently stands, what the immediate priorities are and what the near-term and long-term goals are. I would provide avenues to receive input and ideas from all corners of the company to identify the clearest, most direct path to growth and opportunity. I think many companies are successful because they create a culture of ‘we’re all in this together’ and from that culture gain a better understanding of the company’s true strengths and opportunities.”

Optimism if the right moves are made

It’s cathartic to hear the words and passion coming from those who so closely follow the pet care industry and by virtue of their occupation, have routine detailed conversations with the leaders of many businesses both big and small. Anytime you see the words ‘recession proof’ in a sentence it brings a measure of confidence.

But the challenges nonetheless are steep and varied. Some brands will come out ahead and some will lose ground despite the forecasts. The reason is straightforward: uncertainty can sponsor a form of organizational retreat and withdrawal. While understandable, that condition helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy of defeat. It requires a measure of business moxie to stand in the breach and operate progressively.

Yet that is our call to action to the leaders who read this report. Here, in sum, is the counsel of your pet food prophets:

  • The business remains generally in good condition despite a faltering economy.
  • Communication is a resounding call to action and was repeated over and over for the very reason the experts have taken note of a retreat to silence. Not every story or word needs to be treated like a CIA top security file disclosure. Talking to customers and pet parents is necessary, important and will be rewarded.
  • In a related insight, keep the intel investments going to assess how consumer attitudes and behaviors are shifting within this new cultural minefield they’re living in. To truly know them and their aspirations and concerns is the secret sauce for more effective marketing investments and messaging strategies.
  • Segments of the business driven largely by impulse buying will indeed take a hit until store browsing fully returns.
  • E-commerce is big and getting bigger, and likely to remain an important channel long after the pandemic recedes, so best to map strategy now.
  • When assets are tight and every dollar needs to work like 10, focus on your best sellers and prioritize.
  • Pay attention to supply chain conditions and make sure you have strategies in place should a healthy “Plan B” be required for continuity purposes.

It is important to know that as much as experts see some insulation for the pet food business given the out-sized priority families assign to pets, multiplied by their growing value in a chaotic, less secure world, it is the actions leaders take now that will inform the business outcome later.

Your true north is operating in service of retailer and pet parent needs, aspirations and the health and wellness of pets. Being mindful of consumer concerns and needs can help shape the one thing our experts repeated most often: communicate, communicate, communicate.

Editorial note: Emergent would like to express our heartfelt thanks to each of the editors who participated in this story. We appreciate your time and efforts to help inform the industry.

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.

How to Create Growth When the Future is Uncertain

April 21st, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, CMO, Content Marketing, Growth, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 1 comment on “How to Create Growth When the Future is Uncertain”

Keys to address now – preventing paralysis while accelerating engagement

Businesses and brands don’t like uncertainty. The pandemic has delivered a heaping pile of vagueness on what the future looks like. However, a modest number of companies will avoid the creeping advance of paralysis and will position themselves for industry-leading growth when the pandemic begins to subside. Here’s how to recognize the presence of business-defeating thinking and strategies, while making the right investments that will turn the current batch of potential business lemons into lemonade.

“Fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.

This is a challenging time for nearly every business in food, beverage and lifestyle categories. Competing theories exist on where business will go in the next six months, compounded by conflicting forecasts of what business results will look like and what the future holds generally.

In the face of uncertainty many organizations are sorely tempted to retreat, to pause, to pursue a defensive rather than offensive style strategy. The theory at work is to wait out the storm before attempting to map a more progressive future. That said, some studies suggest the defensive approach can infect the business in the wrong way, and inadvertently set a course for handing over leadership to other brands that determined they would not succumb to a holding pattern during these uncertain times.

What’s really happening here anyway?

Fear begins to replace optimism and some businesses subsequently stop working to create a better reality. Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear, poignantly describes the condition: uncertainty breeds fear. “Fear is programmed by evolution to be hyper-vigilant and insanely over-protective,” she reports. Fear believes that any uncertain outcome is already foretold to end in failure and disappointment. Fear’s job is to induce in varying degrees, a form of panic whenever an organization is about to embark on a path that is less than certain.

Historical evidence points to the right path

Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2010 published a comprehensive report following the Great Recession of 2008/09, to help diagnose what conditions contribute to growth and what strategies set an organization up for unsatisfactory outcomes. The study looked backward at previous recessions and found common ground on approaches that either contributed to losing momentum or acquiring it.

Some organizations look at uncertainty and focus on what could be described as a ‘loss minimizing’ or siege mentality that can put the business into survival mode. Prevention strategies are founded mostly on cost cutting. However, the data shows firms that cut costs faster and deeper than rivals don’t necessarily flourish.

In fact, the HBR report revealed those engaged in loss minimizing have the ‘lowest probability’ of pulling ahead of the competition as economic conditions turn around. The prevention mindset is founded primarily on safety, security, avoiding losses and minimizing risks. This defensive approach also tends to trigger a form of pessimism internally that spreads like wildfire as strict controls and rumors of impending cuts put people in the organization into survival-style behaviors.

  • HBR’s study of 4,700 companies found that 56% of prevention-oriented businesses cut their head count, while only 23% of progressive companies laid off staff and in far fewer numbers. This begs the question, what is a progressive company?

A progressive approach is essentially a balanced strategy that focuses cost controls primarily on identifying operational efficiencies (rather than head count), combined with continued investments in marketing and innovation. The report found that 37% of organizations taking this more aggressive approach were more likely to emerge as leaders later.

For executives working to build the optimal plan it’s important to recognize the barriers to progressive thinking. This can include a mélange of challenges if failure isn’t respected in the organization as the ultimate teaching and learning moment. Additionally, when personal self-worth can’t abide any form of failure, the uncertain conditions often leads to retreat.

Why is marketing investment so important?

Gordon Leavitt, the former Dean of Marketing at Harvard Business School wrote a book called The Marketing Imagination, a profound and enlightened view of marketing’s role in how an organization wins in the marketplace. In it he states, “the purpose of business is to get and keep a customer, therefore every department, every executive, every decision is in fact tied to marketing.” Leavitt believed that everyone is involved in marketing whether their job description says so or not. For the very reason that marketing is not a department, it is the organization’s collective behavior to get and keep the customer.

Granted much has changed since he wrote the book and “purpose” is now a much deeper construct than just commerce. However, his point remains essential in looking at why investments here matter even in the presence of uncertainty. Customer-focused thinking and behaviors prove over and over as a viable path to growth in the midst of adversity.

Ideas and inspiration are required to navigate uncertainty

Ultimately it is ideas that will power growth, especially in the face of doubt. What can get in the way of inspiration that informs great ideas? Most often it is drama, anxiety, distractions, insecurities and fear that can draw the horns inward. These characteristics, corporate or individual, are not receptive to inspiration.

In fact, ideas can be banished with a single word: NO.  In some instances, businesses are culturally organized to say no, no, no and no.

Instead businesses should focus on the essential principles that support creativity including:

Courage

Enchantment

Permission

Persistence

Trust

What are the characteristics needed to promote an atmosphere that invites inspiration, creativity and ideas? Executive leadership that is diligently focused on the customer and their journey, and is driven by attitudes founded on faith, belief, courage and devotion to respecting and caring for the health, wellbeing and welfare of the brand’s users.

It is the ultimate expression of putting their needs at the top of the priority ladder and working backwards from there to identify ways to bring that commitment to life. It is a form of fearlessness that manifests in rallying the organization’s focus to the customer rather than myopic devotion to self-preservation.

When fear is eliminated there is an opportunity to cooperate fully, joyfully and humbly with inspiration, entering into a contract of sorts with it that “we are required to fulfill,” says Gilbert.

Purposeful marketing

Translation of ideas and inspiration into world-class marketing solutions is best seen in the creation of deeper meaning and higher purpose in the brand voice.

According to Kantar Research, successful brand marketing focused on building higher purpose for the business, exhibits three principles:

  1. The organization has an established history supporting a purposeful positioning.
  2. The brand partners with credible third parties who are also passionate about that positioning.
  3. The company is committed to providing tangible solutions that help reassure and guide consumers to a better future.

It should be noted here that the ultimate expression of higher purpose is in the storytelling conducted by brands, their customers and stakeholders. Our brains rely on stories to make sense of the world around us. Yet storytelling has been largely missing from marketing for the last 30 years, as businesses have focused primarily on conveying product features and benefits.

A bright future ahead

Now is the time for an improved story based on a higher purpose delivered fearlessly, creatively by a brand devoted entirely to its customers’ welfare. Erasing self-doubt and self-protection behaviors, the brand can get on the path to future leadership, while successfully navigating the challenge of today’s uncertainty.

Brands that invest now will reap the benefits later in improved strength and growth in their respective categories.

Let us know your questions and challenges, we’re happy to help build your strategic plan, create messaging and content to tell your story.

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.

Consumers carre deeply about their health and wellness

Consumer Health is the New Wealth

April 15th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, Restaurant trends, Transformation 0 comments on “Consumer Health is the New Wealth”

Cultural shift impacts marketing strategy

Your marketing planning and strategic game plan will need to change to maintain relevance as the global pandemic creates a seismic cultural shift in how people behave and how successful relationships are formed between brands, retailers and consumers.

Here’s what you need to know about the basis of these transformative differences and their impact on your strategic communication plans.

The pandemic has served as the world’s greatest and most impactful, harrowing lesson on vulnerability. Regardless of age, income, career or social status, COVID-19 has reached into every corner of society to show that a highly contagious, invisible disease can move quickly and freely to impact every aspect of social and family life, career, health and wellbeing.

  • According to a recent survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association, more than one-third of Americans say the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health.

Economic disruption, societal upheaval and social isolation have generated lasting deviations in how people behave – working to permanently alter life priorities and preferences. What people cared about in December of 2019 is radically different today and isn’t likely to subside in the future.

What was once important is less so now

The accumulation of assets and material wealth as evidence, goals or symbols of life success and fulfillment have fallen away, replaced by health and wellbeing as the new marker of desired “wealth” and personal success.

Anxiety, stress and loss of control have also created an open opportunity for brands and businesses to be a source of credible guidance on more mindful living, and reasserting lifestyle control with investments in personal health and wellness. It cannot be understated: the foundation of brand building is moving away from a transactional approach sewn into the fabric of marketing thinking for the last 50 years. It is resettling now on the requirement to create deeper meaning and a more personally-relevant, useful brand value proposition.

Simply said, you’re going to have to genuinely care deeply, organizationally, about the health and wellbeing of your customers and consider how the brand can contribute to improving their lives. This may sound like a water is wet statement, but in truth, it is an entirely different way of looking at the brand-to-purchaser relationship.

Moving from features, benefits and price cuts to empathy and care

Repeatedly stating ‘we’re in this with you’ isn’t sufficient. Brand and business behaviors must match the cultural shift to managing health and wellness – and operate in sync with how consumers are living and how their needs have morphed.

Higher purpose marketing is first about valuing the customer relationship in a different way. We can define it as putting the brand and business ‘in league’ with the consumer on their life journey, looking for ways to be of tangible value as they seek answers to some significant questions about how they should live and what the future holds.

This more empathetic view of how to communicate should be based in ongoing, continual investments in consumer insight research, designed to assess their attitudes and concerns in a downside of the curve and eventually post-pandemic world. When the brand is able to accurately mirror consumers’ views and desires, the opportunity for relevance is secured, and permission for a conversation is earned. ‘Talking at’ people about features and benefits is a sure pathway to disconnect because it casts the brand as hero of the storytelling rather than the consumer – who must be the hero in all brand outreach.

Data underscores the shifts in behavior

According to a recent national survey by Bernstein, nearly 60% of consumers report a surge in scratch cooking at home.

  • 35% say they care deeply about their wellbeing.
  • 30% say they plan to eat more healthfully.
  • 38% are looking for real food ingredients and packaged products with simple labels.

In fact, the study reported that health and wellness is on the rise as a key consideration when people shop for food. Consumers say they will increase consumption of vegetables, fruits and other fresh foods, while they reduce purchases of highly processed products and foods that are high in fat, sugar, carbs and salt. The current spike in sales of processed packaged foods is likely to be short-lived. Consumers post-pandemic will worry less about emergency stock-ups and instead turn their attention to managing their own health and wellbeing.

In a related study by AMC Global and reported in Food Navigator, 52% are increasing their use of online grocery shopping platforms, and 25% say they expect to continue using online channels after the restrictions are lifted.

  • 38% plan to more fully support local businesses and product sources.
  • 32% expect to continue cooking more meals at home.
  • 35% intend post-pandemic to spend more time with their families.

Post-pandemic planning insights

For food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers, health and wellbeing should be a centerpiece in your messaging strategy and given consideration as a focus of content creation strategies. It is the most important and viable way for consumers to regain control of their lives, and to address what is now one of the most significant concerns they have: protecting themselves and their families from immune system vulnerabilities, while enhancing their comfort and wellbeing.

A more holistic view of health and wellness should factor in stress and anxiety as a key component in healthy living strategies by offering guidance and information on ways to cope. Meditation and exercise can be an important way for consumers to administer self-care and address the uncertainty they continue to face in their lives.

The dynamic in how brand relationships are created will increasingly be based on reciprocity and operating in a manner that demonstrates the consumer’s welfare is a top priority, thus why transparency and trust creation will need to be addressed in communication and operations strategy.

The forced changes in routine home food preparation arising from the stay-at-home order, is likely to be permanent as consumers experience the benefits of exercising greater control over ingredients, portions and preparations. Brands should be working hard to operate as guide, coach and inspiration for aspiring home chefs who want to hone their skills and feed their creativity. Equally so for home-based exercise and fitness activities.

The pivot by foodservice operators to offer meal kits, groceries and culinary advice, is also likely to be a lasting business model change for the restaurant industry. Which brings us to the growing importance of the home as a centerpiece for social interaction, safety and security and now a place of work. This will favor digital-first thinking and enhance the value of media consumed online and at home.

E-commerce channel is going to get more and more use as the systems improve and the friction in ordering and accurate, timely delivery is removed. Brick and mortar retail will have to strategically shift to facilitate a more seamless experience in omni-channel shopping behaviors. The importance of web site and email marketing should rise as consumers increasingly look for helpful, valuable engagement rather than access to what is at most self-promotional or least an online brochure.

The efforts you make to invest in building social channel communities will get more productive as the brand voice moves further from self-promotion and more fully into offering useful lifestyle guidance and direction. This will facilitate a more interactive environment and encourage consumers to share their own stories, interests and concerns. Social proof is a vital part of creating belief and credibility with your best users and attracting new fans to the brand. If you want to attract to new fans to the brand, you need to start by being a fan of theirs!

Finally, people believe other people more than they do corporate voices. To the extent you are engaging outside third-party voices in brand communication, you have the opportunity to humanize the brand and create more authentic messaging. In fact, building a more human-like brand is a critical component to acquiring trust. Great care should be exercised in how paid influencers are deployed as the consumer increasingly sees these voices as compromised and less trusted.

Emergent is an expert resource to help you develop post-pandemic plans and strategies.

  • Do you need support in consumer insight research to help inform your planning?
  • Would guidance be helpful on building optimal messaging strategies and content creation programs?
  • Would it be of benefit to have a creative resource help think through the evolutionary changes that will be required in how you go to market?

Let us know if you would like to talk informally about what comes next.

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.

Building Trust in the Midst of Fear

March 15th, 2020 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Pet food, Restaurant trends, Social community, Social media, Transformation 1 comment on “Building Trust in the Midst of Fear”

Efforts to create, innovate and communicate will inform your brand’s future

You’ve undoubtedly run across the ‘dystopian future’ movie storyline, usually brought on by some cataclysmic disaster with intrepid or hysterical survivors running into a grocery store, only to be greeted by empty shelves while wading through torn packaging detritus everywhere. I had this movie-like experience only last night at the Mariano’s supermarket nearby. I witnessed the fear-driven cart Olympics mad dash as aisle after aisle of products were emptied save a lone, bruised apple and a dented, torn box of cereal left dangling precariously on an otherwise barren shelf.

Uncertainty and media drama are partners in the perceptual stew that pushes people into behaviors normally reserved for cinematic storytelling. Fear of the unknown grips as the house now achieves safe haven sanctuary status and toilet paper becomes one of the most elusive, rare and sought-after commodities in the nation.

Keep Calm and Carry On

In 1940 at the height of the Blitzkrieg (The Blitz) that showered Great Britain with bombs in the night, dropped indiscriminately on London neighborhoods, the government released its now famous poster Keep Calm and Carry On. This statement became a dominant theme embraced by incredibly brave British citizens in the face of unrelenting catastrophe and sharpened their resolve to weather the life-threatening storm.

Right now, today, you have an opportunity to help your customers Keep Calm and discover the opportunities presented by a large dose of enforced family time and homebound adventures and experiences. Creative, innovative thinking and generous outreach is the required skillset.

Lemonade from lemons

The foodservice industry is taking it on the chin. In Seattle, the hardest hit city in the nation from COVID-19, business has virtually disappeared from restaurants as people remain home. Arguably Seattle’s finest dining establishment, Canlis, an iconic example of culinary quality that has led the dining scene there for decades, elected to close.

Chef-owner Tom Douglas told Restaurant Business magazine revenue was off by 90%, which might as well be 100%. Nonetheless, Douglas’ response was instructive to us all. He announced the opening of three concepts based out of Canlis kitchens that will serve the takeout, drive through and home delivery market segments. The Bagel Shed will offer breakfast options; Drive on Thru will provide lunchtime burgers, veggie melts and salad; Family Meal will offer a rotating menu of dinner entrees and a bottle of wine delivered to your door. A creative deployment of solutions and assets that helps keep the team employed while answering the opportunity for off-premise consumption business.

Salve for Uncertainty

Communication, and lots of it, is required in these unprecedented times. Your motivation is not only to inform users of what your business is doing to keep the flow of goods and services they need safely in motion, but also to express care and concern for their health, wellbeing and happiness.

The schools my daughters attend are now closed. My youngest is a dancer, and her classes and performances have been cancelled. My oldest is an ice skater and the rink is shut and practices stopped. What we have going is each other, our wonderful dogs, more time together and adventurous spirits.

How can your brand operate as coach and guide for family activities, more hands-on experiences with the pets, and a renewed focus on home-prepared meals? With no sports, no concerts, no large group events of any kind, the marketplace may well be listening and consumers more open to engagement than ever before. There are certainly wayyy fewer distractions competing for precious attention.

Your brand’s ability to operate as an enabler and resource is important in this environment. Social communities can become outlets of shared experience. In Chicago, the Nextdoor online community bulletin board is on fire as people share thoughts, ideas and concerns on the changes occurring before us. One of the most active conversations is around the status of fresh food supplies in local supermarkets and guidance on who has what.

People want to share and engage with each other

We have arrived at a new era where businesses increasingly understand they are about more than manufacturing, retailing and commerce. Companies have discovered their growing role in authoring the greater good. This self-discovery opens the door to building a more human and approachable brand that understands relationships with users are increasingly like real, human friendships and the natural reciprocity that exists in that personal dynamic.

When brands talk, walk and behave in a more human and relate-able manner, they become more resonant and trustworthy. You have been handed an extraordinary opportunity to help people in the midst of a trying storm. Empathy is a great characteristic and will serve you well as people embrace your voice of reason and support.

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.

Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail

March 13th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, consumer behavior, e-commerce, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, Human behavior, Insight, Retail brand building, Social media, Supermarket strategy, Validation 1 comment on “Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail”

Your next moves to retain trust and reputation

Right now, your consumers are worried, bewildered, concerned and uncertain about what shoes might drop next. They are being sent home from the office, schools are shutting, sports and entertainment events are gone, Spring break vacations are upended, and the future impacts of the pandemic are hard to predict.

We know you equally have concerns and are working hard to address any uncertainties. We’re with you and know your heart is in the right place.

This is a significant moment on the continuum where brand trust and reputation can be secured or injured. What you do next will matter, and it’s important to note that communication may be one of the most important assets at your disposal.

  • Honest, transparent messaging breeds trust and feeds patience, while silence will fuel uncertainty and dilute confidence.

Number one: communicate early and often

This is not the time to be quiet. If you make or sell a consumable product, especially food, beverages or pet food, people are worried about what comes next. Here’s what they want to know, right now.

For CPG

  1. Is there anything going on in your supply chain that will negatively impact the availability of your products? You may not have all the answers but it’s better to communicate current status than to stay silent. What you don’t know you state as such.
  2. What’s happening in your manufacturing, whether that be your own facilities or co-packers, with respect to employee activity, plant hygiene, and mitigation plans should people be sent home?
  3. What are your standards, methods, procedures on maintaining vigilance over ingredient integrity and safety, and testing for same through the product creation process?
  4. How can they get your products and services online? We know that feels like a ‘water is wet’ type question but it’s important and should be addressed in these conditions.

For retailers

  1. Are you able you keep customers apprised of out-of-stocks and shelf replenishment schedules?
  2. Can your pharmacy experts set aside scheduled time for by-phone consultations or online Q&A’s?
  3. Are you signaling home delivery wait times when capacity is stretched?
  4. What are your food handling an on-premise hygiene policies and procedures to help avoid any contamination?

The message matters

Your voice in this moment will impact the outcome. It’s important to avoid corporate speak, industry jargon and complex, “inside baseball” forms of messaging that only an employee can unravel.

A human, approachable voice including information that is presented with clarity and transparency will resonate with those you wish to reach. People routinely ignore dense, complex, analytical-style messages. Simple is better.

This is not the time for grand standing, self-promotional and brand-anthem style outreach that attempts to pass over the reality of what’s happening. Instead, empathy and care for the health and wellbeing of your users should ring through everything you release or post.

Next steps

  • Publish updates and trust-enhancing content at your web site and in your social channels on a weekly basis. More often if you have new news to share.
  • Keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Encourage dialogue and conversation at your social sites to invite questions from fans and followers.
  • As the situation changes, keep your stakeholders informed.
  • Be generous of spirit and look for “surprise and delight” opportunities and stories for users and channel customers. Celebrate helpfulness, acts of kindness, and ‘we’re all in this together’ kinds of inspirational unity.

Navigation leads to reputation

Your efforts to be accessible, approachable and honest here will lead to respect and confidence among the stakeholders that matter to the future of your business. Both internal and external audiences will benefit greatly from your efforts to keep them apprised of what’s going on.

As always should you need help navigating these uncharted waters, we’re here to support you with guidance, messaging, copy, media and anything else you might need.

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.

Beliefs and behaviors can change the world

March 12th, 2020 Posted by change, Emotional relevance, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose 1 comment on “Beliefs and behaviors can change the world”

Higher purpose works when lived

My wife Kristen and I last night went to what’s affectionately known in Chicago as a ‘Blackhawks Bar’ (code for sports bar with lots of TVs and the sound on during a game) in the West Loop area called WestEnd. We were there to watch the Blackhawks play the San Jose Sharks. Both of us are avid fans. To our left was a table occupied by three Chicago police officers who were grabbing a meal together.

Kristen motioned the waitress over and said, “I’d like to pay the check for the officers over there.” She does this routinely, early and often – and before the game was over, she did it again for another group of officers who were also dining nearby.

She believes that police officers put their lives on the line daily to help provide safety and protection in what is largely a tough and thankless job. Her effort to buy their dinner was a small gesture of appreciation for their service and to telegraph they are valued. She said to me, “I believe in them and what they do, it’s the least I can do to show some support.”

Her effort was genuine, heartfelt and an expression of her values.

We have published extensively about the importance of higher purpose and deeper meaning to brand growth, at a time when people care more than ever about how businesses contribute to making the world around us better. The goal to operate consistently on a level that transcends commerce and aligns the business with inspiring values and unselfish behaviors.

Kristen’s gesture was based on her beliefs. She lives and breathes this way and I for one am honored to have a person like her in my life. So it is that convictions and actions can contribute each day to improving the world we live in.

Sometimes it’s important to step back for a minute and examine how we can author this kind of thinking inside the businesses we run. Our actions always and forever speak louder than our words. When we live it and do it, it can influence the culture around us and inspire others to join us.

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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