Posts tagged "consumer behavior"

Pet parent bond drives pet food category growth

Pet Food Industry Resilience in Face of Pandemic and Change

July 8th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Higher Purpose, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition 0 comments on “Pet Food Industry Resilience in Face of Pandemic and Change”

Pets in catbird seat of household spending priority

By Robert Wheatley

While the earth-shaking intensity of COVID-19 and a global pandemic has upended lives, businesses and careers, it has elevated the importance of family pets as important companions in a rocky and uncertain life journey. Witness the stampede to shelters and pet rescue centers as people have swept up stray dogs and cats to join the family during stay-at-home orders.

Even now the pet industry is forecasted to grow by 4 to 7% this year despite lock downs and recessionary trends. Pet food is a strong, maybe recession-proof, business that is likely to retain its momentum for the very reason pets are meaningful players in the health and wellbeing, and possibly sanity, of their owners.

The marketing game plan for pet brands may shift towards the emotional dynamic of the human/animal bond more so than nutritional specsmanship, a fact-based common feature of brand communication during the last 10 years. Now more than ever, there is a concerted need for insight and understanding of how pet parent attitudes and needs are changing as a result of the pandemic.

History shows pet food to be a unique industry forever grounded in a growing, visceral enthusiasm for furry creatures who over time have moved from the barnyard to the backyard, to the living room and now are often found at night in the bedroom cozying up with their owners. The genesis story of this cultural evolution is fascinating and was set in motion by an unexpected world-class crisis event.

Who is making the pet food?

It was 2007 when the pet food world was turned on its head, disrupted and capsized with news of surging pet fatalities traced to tainted Melamine ingredients from China. Remarkably, it wasn’t the poisoned food or pet deaths that caused a complete industry shake-up. As the crisis unfolded, media working to trace the Melamine source determined that one company in Canada, Menu Foods, was manufacturing more than 100 different brands of pet food.

Instantly the tens of millions spent in brand advertising and equity building for some of the largest industry players was rendered inert. Brand reputations, constructed on years of claims about carefully formulated, created foods, were upended as the perceptions of food-making craftsmanship took the torpedo of outsourced – and apparently unsafe – production.

Almost immediately web sites sprang up around the “truth about pet food” as attention turned to deconstructing what exactly was inside the little brown nugget known as kibble. The largest and most popular foods were primarily grain-based products, a relatively inexpensive ingredient that flew against the marketing imagery of meat being the top nutritional anchor.

A new theme emerged as smaller boutique pet food brands making higher-quality pet foods suddenly got their day in the sun. Pet parents everywhere learned that dogs and cats are primarily carnivores, and their ancestral diets were closely linked to consumption of meat and fish proteins.

The definition of a high-quality pet food was restaged to a new recipe paradigm. The idea of ‘dogs-descended-from-wolves’ made intuitive sense to consumers as they resonated to the idea that pets aren’t grain (corn) eaters.

Dawn of the grain-free juggernaut

Sales of emerging premium brands like Wellness, Nature’s Variety, Merrick and Champion Petfoods’ Orijen brand shot up as pet parents began to upgrade the food they served to Fido. They started to pay closer attention to product labels, ingredient statements and sources. Orijen became the first brand to telegraph the percentage of meat protein in their formulation, under the story that more meat protein was indeed better and compatible with the nutritional needs and eating anatomy of dogs and cats.

The race was on to embrace grain-free as a category with marketing activity now devoted to focus on higher quality and so-called ‘human grade’ meat, poultry and fish ingredients inside the bag. Driving the grain-free momentum was a continued premiumization of the entire pet food industry. Pets were increasingly valued family members and food quality emerged as a symbol of investing in the health and wellness of four-legged, furry children – mirroring the healthy eating trend at the human dinner table.

As a business segment, grain-free pet foods emerged as the top volume growth producer at retail. Not lost on brands in every segment of the market, most companies joined the rush to create their versions of grain-free foods given the nomenclature had become a reference standard for healthier diet.

As evidence mounted that growth was to be had in the grain-free segment, Petco became the first big box retailer to fully re-set their stores, shifting prime in-store real estate to featuring the growing high quality brand players, while mass brands were pushed to the back of the shelving bus.

Investment followed to play in the quality end of the pool

The volume business ‘cheese’ was moving in pet food and naturally, investment followed as equity capital got involved among emerging brands such as the Catterton Partners acquisition of raw food category leader Nature’s Variety.

Large cap strategic players made their moves when grain-free superstar Blue Buffalo was snapped up by General Mills; JM Smucker bought Big Heart Brands gaining the Natural Balance business in the deal; and Nestlé landed Merrick Petcare to operate alongside their established Purina Petcare business. Testimony to the vast changes in consumer behavior and brand preference, Proctor & Gamble got out of the pet food business entirely, selling their limping Iams business to Mars Petcare, makers of Pedigree.

Super premium pet foods were once the exclusive province of independent pet retail. However, premiumization trends are now impacting the channel traditions as higher-quality brands show up in mass and grocery retail to meet the demand for better quality pet foods. There’s ample evidence that consumers are undeterred at higher average price points. General Mills made quick moves to use their clout in moving Blue Buffalo to supermarkets. While the Blue Buffalo business has suffered declines as independent retailers reacted negatively to the channel move, the grocery volume has more than offset the losses. Pet food has become a balance sheet darling for General Mills to tout during their quarterly reports to the Street.

Growth of pet food sales in e-commerce has been nothing short of phenomenal as people cut down on shopping trips and show interest in no-contact purchasing via online stores like Chewy and Amazon. Industry watchers anticipate there will be more consolidation as pet food continues to show its resilience in an otherwise shaky business and retail environment.

What lies ahead in pet

One key area of vulnerability in pet food is supply chain as the meat processing industry was felled by hyper-spreading of the virus in employee-packed plants. Stability in the sourcing of protein ingredients will be vital to industry health in the coming months.

On another front, in July 2018 the industry was upset by a report from the FDA that implicated grain- free foods as a potential contributor to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), a potentially fatal heart disease in dogs associated with low Taurine intake, an important amino acid. The FDA felt persuaded to list brands that were under review in their research, and the media firestorm around it created a wave of consumer and veterinary concerns about safety and which foods could be served with confidence.

The industry responded first by working collaboratively with the FDA on their investigation, while also creating new “wholesome or ancient grain” versions of their foods for pet parents who wanted the option. More recently, peer-reviewed research from third-party sources has been published that concludes the onset of DCM conditions is not diet related but mostly hereditary.

While many brands have experienced real setbacks in their grain-free business, it is expected the new information on DCM, as it works its way to consumers and retailers, will help restore confidence and close the chapter on safety concerns.

Marveling at the human/animal bond

With pets front and center, playing an important role in family life while people spend more time at home, it will be interesting to observe if pet brands make the emotional relationship a centerpiece of their marketing efforts. More insight research is needed to understand the nuances of this significant pet / pet parent relationship and how it has changed during the pandemic.

Alvarez & Marsal, along with partners Emergent Healthy Living brand marketing firm, Brand Experience Group  (BXG) insight research company, and Starcount social media listening agency, are approaching legacy and emerging pet brands with an insight proposal.

The pandemic research project combines quantitative and qualitative methodologies to discover the changes delivered by COVID 19 to pet parent attitudes, concerns and purchase behaviors. It is the intent of the research to reveal a new understanding of where the pet food business should navigate over the coming months and the next few years.

For more information on the project, contact Wes Arens at Alvarez & Marsal, warens@alvarezandmarsal.com or Mike Bambrick at BXG, mbambrick@brandexperience-group.com.

About the author: Robert Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Emergent helps CPG, retail and lifestyle brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and brand communication. For more details on Emergent’s pet care experience and credentials, click here to view or download an overview.

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.

Pandemic unleashes cultural changes

Context is Your Marketing Super Power

June 28th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Navigation, Social community 0 comments on “Context is Your Marketing Super Power”

How are you deploying it?

The incredible disruption spawned by the global pandemic is creating an important opportunity to reframe the marketing conversation around your brand. During difficult times people are more receptive to brands making bolder moves. Uncertainty provides the latitude to experiment, in the context of answering cultural changes that are having a profound impact on how people view the world around them and what they care about in times of change.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Cultural shifts create influential moments when consumers are open to new ideas. Behavior change, which is hard to accomplish, becomes more attainable. What we know about people is the role that perceived risk has in their decisions. When a change is adopted by many, it can quickly become the default choice for the very reason human beings are a copying species. Popularity provides reassurance.

Permission operates in the same way. Witness what is happening now with work at home. Companies, especially in the tech sector, are making this a permanent adaptation and by virtue of doing so signaling a new acceptable default for how business will operate. If it were merely served up as an optional choice (as it has been for years!) the adoption curve falls immediately because of the perceived risks of not being in the office and any stigma that might accompany that perception. Companies that offer unlimited vacation see the same outcome as people don’t suddenly leave for extended periods for the same reasons – fear their career will be compromised and so the “choice” isn’t activated. Averting negative experiences is a highly motivating and universally common behavioral trait among consumers.

Human beings are hard-wired to avoid personal risk

The over-arching impact of COVID-19 on the value proposition of health and wellness moves the interest in healthy lifestyle from aspirational to practical to necessity. As we’ve said previously, Health is the New Wealth, essentially means there are life-maintaining, risk-mitigating reasons to shore up the immune system. This is having an impact on food and beverage brand growth in the coming year. The default for health and wellness has now changed – it’s visceral and existential. This also helps sponsor an emotionally charged marketing environment.

It’s important to note that humans are not governed by algorithms. We do not make decisions based on rational thus predictable assessments of facts. If we did, 1 + 1 = 2 could be applied to marketing activity with assured outcomes. Instead – we are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel. Yet for some reason right alongside the birth of digital marketing platforms and the ability to amass data, we have become too preoccupied with marketing plumbing at the expense of paying closer attention to the (human behavior) water inside.

Psychological insights are simply more powerful and unilaterally effective than any form of technological or engineering advantage in products and service marketing. Said another way, a terrific well-designed product with subpar marketing behind it can fail – while a lesser product with better and more humanly relevant marketing strategies in support will win the race. How can this be? …Because now we can create high levels of satisfaction by knowing what truly ”floats the consumer’s boat,” more so than any advantage created by a less emotionally-compelling ingredient innovation or product feature.

Marketing is not a form of cosmetic surgery to apply a thin layer of magic fairy dust on the top of a product that succeeds on its own merits just because it is well crafted. Dyson vacuum was renowned as an engineering marvel, yet its suction power wasn’t really the big leap forward over other conventional models. Its sexy design created perceptions of new and modern (visual cue), while the ability to actually see dirt in a clear cup provided enormous levels of personal accomplishment and emotional satisfaction to people who could observe the outcome of their floor-cleaning efforts for the first time. The marketing behind Dyson was masterful in elevating the value of having one in the house as a symbol of being progressive and innovative while embracing the fashion of an edgy, differentiated design.

The most important move to make on the successful marketing path is….

Our job (and yours) is to identify the single most powerful motivation driving customer behavior in a client’s category. Armed with this understanding we place the consumer at the center of planning, working to apply our understanding of context, perceptions and emotions that are tied to their behaviors. We translate that insight into more effective communication.

Everyday people show their peculiarities, whims and irrational behaviors, wishes and fears. Armed with this knowledge we’re able to blaze new trails for brands that want to and can be more relevant to consumer needs. This happens because the brand’s deeper meaning and values now operate in sync with what people believe and care about.

In this unprecedented marketing environment, here are some questions to consider:

  • How can your brand contribute to the cultural conversation going on right now?
  • What are your users’ shifting attitudes about themselves?
  • What higher purpose can your brand fulfill that matches the beliefs consumers value the most?
  • With health and wellness now more important than ever to people, how does this play out in your strategic plan?

You have permission now to experiment outside the rational comfort zone, offering new reasons-to-believe that are tied to deeper meaning and values that transcend the product itself. A small example of the human emotional condition at work here: why is it that consumers perceive a car drives and performs better when it is clean? Not really rational is it!

We work to change the way people see your brand

Our role as creative communicators is to pay attention to the consumer who buys our clients’ product or service. Perception often leads reality and our job is to manage those perceptions, knowing that the reality is never far away in a digital world where anything that can be known, will be known.

The four horsemen of an effective strategic marketing plan are:

  • Context (in which it is consumed)
  • Environment (in which it is sold)
  • Cultural setting (that drives surrounding beliefs)
  • Who says it (the voice employed to build trust)

Harkening back to our earlier point about risk aversion and disaster avoidance, trust might be the most important consideration to directly address in the strategic plan. Trust drives purchase behavior. It can also disappear quickly if not managed with great care.

This explains why social media is such an important channel to deploy strategically. For the very reason the voices involved are consumers and not the company. People believe other people long before they’ll accept what a business claims about its product. Social proof serves as verification and validation of what you want people to understand and accept about your brand.

In a tough marketing environment, trusted brands will succeed and it doesn’t happen organically. Trust is acquired and earned over time. This is perhaps the most powerful argument for investing in brand building. Consumers trust those they know and believe. They also trust the wisdom of crowds and translate socially accepted choice as ‘vetted and approved’.

Now is the time to step beyond your comfort zone and consider bolder moves. If logic were the only defining path-to-purchase then every brand in a category would be on equal footing. However, that isn’t the case because logic doesn’t respect what we know about people and how they behave.

Your super power is the ability to embed context and relevance in brand communication. Emergent can help you navigate and design more engaging brand outreach and active social communities. Let us know if you’re interested in finding a fresh perspective.

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.

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.

Emergent’s Pandemic Brand Marketing Checklist

May 4th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, change, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 0 comments on “Emergent’s Pandemic Brand Marketing Checklist”

World has changed, now what?

Marketing and communication will not be the same as lock down conditions begin to abate.  Consumer confidence is in need of triage and should be foremost on your radar as you make plans to re-energize the business.

  • Confidence in their own safety.
  • Confidence in your businesses’ on-premise and product safety protocols.
  • Confidence in how and where they shop for food, whether that be from grocery or restaurant delivery.
  • Confidence your brand has their best interests and welfare at heart.

This checklist is intended to help inform your thinking and strategy in light of the transformational lifestyle shift consumers have experienced.

You might agree that any marketing plan must be founded on respect for the consumer’s mindset and behaviors. Families have endured one of the most harrowing, precedent-setting and impactful changes in their world, ever.

What we know about the COVID-19 impact:

  • Health and safety are the top priority for people.
  • At home is safe, out of home is not safe.
  • Invisible threats exist that can impact your health or take your life.
  • These events have disrupted every aspect of living and society.
  • People cannot control these conditions and are forced to adapt based on self-diagnosis of their own needs and preferences.
  • What consumers value changes when life is literally upside-down.

The key changes:

  • At home: time and space have become more fluid, less regimented.
  • Blurring of home and work separation.
  • Desire for guidance on home-focused activities from exercise, to gardening to cleaning/decluttering to baking/culinary.
  • Digital experience now a necessity for art, music and escape.
  • Content consumption is nearly 24/7 as average weekly screen times skyrocket.

Top priority for people:

  • Physical, mental and emotional health.
  • Staying well.
  • Boredom, anxiety and uncertainty meet desire to be distracted/inspired/entertained, productive and composed.

What we know about people:

  • Human beings are feeling creatures who think – not thinking creatures who feel. Emotion governs behaviors, decisions and actions.
  • How brand relationships are cultivated and built must adjust to be respectful of where people find themselves, emotionally, now.

Marketing and communication priorities

Insight:

Every brand is unique; what do your core users care about, need, want, desire?

Diagnostic:

Is the brand correctly positioned for shifting lifestyle relevance and empathy?

Strategy:

Holistic solutions that answer, tangibly, how you can help improve your core users’ lives.

Media:

Digital first and emotionally relevant content is king.

Social:             

Now more than ever social community building is embedded in the desire for conversation and interaction. Witness Zoom is a verb and people long for regular contact and interaction. Social channels have acquired an entirely new and uplifted value proposition.

Tactics:

  • Overwhelming importance of shared purpose, meaning and values in messaging.
  • Emotional communication vital to engagement.
  • People believe other people before they believe companies – who is speaking?
  • Health is the new wealth – your brand is the guide, expert and coach.
  • Storytelling vs. story-yelling – days of shameless brand self-promotion are over.
  • Consumers feel out of control, how can you give it back to them?
  • Trust creation as core brand platform – earn belief through higher purpose.
  • Be careful, data can be a false god – algorithms don’t dream.

Secret sauce to success:

Put your consumer at the center of planning, decide relevance matters most and work backwards from there.

To help you navigate these unprecedented changes and chart a course to sustainable growth Emergent can provide deep CPG and retail marketing experience, insight to consumer behavior, health and wellness lifestyle expertise and transformational ideas. Use this link to let us know if you’re ready to explore new solutions.

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.

Mining Emotion Fuels Business Results

April 29th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Social media 0 comments on “Mining Emotion Fuels Business Results”

Emotional connections can drive consistent growth

Your consumer is not an analytical, fact-based decision-making machine. Ironically, however, most brand marketing and communication automatically presumes people lean into logic to rationally assess the prevailing evidence of superiority or product benefits companies provide.

The Pandemic has added an exclamation point to this intel as consumers increasingly want brands to be authentically rooted in shared values, beliefs and a higher purpose. Understanding how the DNA of successful brand/consumer relationships has changed is vital to gaining business traction. As you’ll see in the Harvard Business Review case study we review later,  evidence is piling up that mining emotional connectivity is simply a far better business-building decision leading to increased sales and market share over time.

We now have data that confirms brand relationships tethered to emotion are far more effective in delivering the engagement and business results you seek. Here’s the headline: all people are emotionally-driven creatures whose decisions are governed by how they feel about your brand.

Like a lightbulb to a lamp, brand growth is powered by its relevance with consumers who show the highest propensity to engage. Emotion and engagement are uniquely bonded in a vital marriage that will stand the test of time, weathering adversity and continuing to grow deeper, richer like fine wine in the cellar.

How important is this discovery about emotion-led marketing to your business?

Motista conducted a study of 100,000 consumers across 100 different brands and learned that emotionally-connected consumers are more valuable to the balance sheet than the ‘highly-satisfied’ customers you may covet. The former spends, on average, two-times more with retailers they prefer and have a 306% greater lifetime value to the business. Emotionally-invested consumers even recommend favored brands at a much higher rate than those who claim to be super satisfied – 30.2% vs. 7.6%.

Motista concluded emotional connectivity is the most valuable, predictable and enduring strategy you can deploy to build a business that routinely surpasses category growth rates.

Insight Informs Your Strategic Platform

  1. Emotional connectivity happens when your brand reflects back to the consumer values, desires and aspirations consistent with their own. If you want a deeper relationship with your users, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.

 

  1. Knowing your customer on an intimate level is necessary to provide the understanding and ability to secure three important qualities of like, know and trust. This will require an ongoing investment in consumer insight research designed to unearth details of what they care about and who they are.

 

  1. All purchases today are largely symbolic gestures designed to flag to the rest of the world around us what people value and who they are. It isn’t possible to achieve this kind of relevance without knowing what your best users desire.

 

  1. Which leads to this key question: is the relevant lifestyle symbolism people look for embedded everywhere your customer is likely to encounter the brand online and off? Said more succinctly, is the entire customer journey infused with the insights that feed emotional communication?

Harvard Business Review case study offers proof

HBR published an intriguing report to fully test the hypothesis that emotional connectivity leads to out-sized financial results. You can read the report here. Their conclusion, when brands are able to successfully build emotional connections, the payoff is significant.

The journey begins with correctly assessing emotional motivators that are relevant to your brand. An example: “I am inspired by a desire to…”

  • Enjoy a sense of well-being.
  • Have confidence in the future.
  • Become the person I aspire to be.
  • Experience fulfillment and purpose.
  • Feel secure in the midst of uncertainty.
  • Experience a sense of freedom.

HBR reported on a fashion retailer who participated in the project. Appropriately, the company identified a “propensity to engage” segment they characterized as Fashion Flourishers. The segment represented 22% of the customer base but accounted for 37% of sales. This enthusiast customer group spent $468 a year on average vs. $235 for traditional shoppers, and 46% visited the stores at least once a month over 21% for everyone else.

Initial analysis showed this cohort was less price-sensitive and remained a loyal customer over a longer period of time. The goal was to initiate direct investments in forming emotional connections with this group.

To start, the company conducted discovery research around emotional motivators for the segment and found three distinct attributes:

  • Makes me feel more creative.
  • Makes me feel a sense of belonging.
  • Makes me feel a sense of freedom.

Marketing programs were created around the insight. For example, to leverage the sense of belonging motivator, the retailer invited customers to submit selfies wearing their favorite outfits which were then posted as slide shows on video walls inside the stores.

Further the company weighed into emotionally-relevant media and experiences such as social channels and enhanced store design to marry the shopping experience to the emotional traits. Similarly, an email campaign was created around messaging that nurtured the ‘makes me feel creative’ attribute.

Outcomes confirmed the hypothesis

As a result of investing in emotional connections, stores optimized to reflect the emotional interests of Fashion Flourishers averaged 3.5% annual sales growth vs 1.0 percent for other stores in the chain. Inventory turns improved by 25% and customer advocacy scores grew by 20% year over year.

Key to success

Emotional motivators will vary across brands and audience segments, which underscores why the insight research component is so important to achieving results.

Bottomline, brand communications focused on building emotional connection is the secret sauce to consistently strong business results. Emotional connectivity works because it is respectful of what we now know about how people operate and how they make decisions (not analytically).

Thus, it is important to marry the emotional-driven strategy to every touch point and contact opportunity consumers may have with the brand. COVID-19 and the cultural disruption it is creating will change the face of marketing. The emotional-led strategy is aligned with these shifts and can help improve the future business results for brands that are wise enough to pursue it.

We can help you develop the strategic plan and execute the appropriate research for building emotional connections with your consumers, as well as bringing it to life with creative communications tools. Let us know if you would like to discuss informally.

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.

Your Brand’s Higher Purpose Right Now is Health and Wellness

April 4th, 2020 Posted by brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, grocery e-commerce, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Your Brand’s Higher Purpose Right Now is Health and Wellness”

This is the moment to help consumers adopt a healthy lifestyle

COVID 19 has changed everything for consumers, who are now looking for ways to get back in control of their lives amidst unprecedented uncertainty. Food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers have an enormous opportunity to step into this need right now and help consumers do the one thing that can help protect themselves and their families from the advance of the pandemic: take control of their health and wellness.

  • Strong immune systems are supported by optimal health and wellness and can be of benefit to everyone no matter their age. While the world operates uncontrollably around everyone, the ability of people to acquire healthier eating habits and experience other activities that will enhance their wellbeing, is within their grasp.

We have growing evidence that brands are becoming more relevant (important) than public institutions as a source of help and inspiration in these trying times. If you are considering where to place your bets on messaging and communications strategy, supporting health and wellness is your new calling.

Emergence of higher purpose strategy

For years now we have continued to publish routinely on the shifts in public sentiment and behavior that merit brand’s adopting a higher purpose to govern their decisions, operations and marketing. The pandemic serves as a catalyst for making this strategic endeavor a fundamental part of sound marketing best practices. The days of self-promotion and strict transactional thinking about brand building are over. More enlightened brand support is required, especially in view of the transformational change brought on by COVID-19.

Brands need a relevant, useful, valued voice right now, one that helps inspire people to adopt the changes that will help benefit their own health. This is the strategic path to establishing your brand’s higher purpose.  Content creation here can vastly improve the traction and engagement levels of brand communication in any relevant category, from better-for-you beverages to pet food.

The role of the higher purpose brand in health and wellness

The role of your brand in this important mission is as credible guide and advisor on the path to enhanced health and wellbeing. The instruments to deploy include:

  • Healthier eating, preparations and menus
  • Enhanced exercise and wellness regimens
  • Improved sleep, relaxation and physical renewal
  • Stress reduction and emotional management
  • Family engagement, learning and relationship development
  • Integration of pet lifestyle in all of the above
  • E-commerce shopping tips and guidance to navigate dietary and wellness objectives

Stated simply, the best path is a holistic one that recognizes the integration of physical, emotional and spiritual needs – fundamental to enriching the lives of your customers and making a difference in how they successfully address the upheaval they’re experiencing.

Deployment of third-party voices

Key to activation is the use of outside third-party voices to help tell your story. Whether they are ‘real consumer brand fans’ who want to be of help to those around them, or experts in these subject matters areas from nutrition to culinary guidance.

Restaurant businesses are not faring well, and your efforts here could provide a new voice and relevance to chefs at a time when they need other channels of opportunity. Believe me, they want to help, too.

This is not the time to go dark

Ample evidence exists that brands who continue to invest, who continue to actively engage their consumers, come out ahead in sales growth and market share positions during tough economic times. Consumers remain open to receiving marketing messages from brands, especially those that have their best interests at heart.

However, the character of the message becomes ever more important and why the health and wellness platform for communications is directionally significant. Helping people get back in control of their lives is an important call to action. You have an opportunity here to earn their trust and their attention.

How Emergent can help you

  1. We can help you shape strategy around a higher purpose mission, tailored to the unique characteristics of your brand, business and consumer.
  2. We can build a compelling messaging platform that provides guidance to all external and internal communications efforts.
  3. We can help you identify and secure the right outside voices to help build trust and validate what you want people to know and believe.
  4. We can help you create content and execute outreach in earned, owned, paid and social channels of communication.

Let us know your questions and challenges. We’re happy to help in any way we can.

After all, we’re all in this 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.

Archives

Categories