Posts tagged "consumer behavior"

Know your customer's pain points

To acquire consumer trust, you must walk in their shoes

March 5th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Journey Map, Retail brand building, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Strategic Planning, word of mouth 0 comments on “To acquire consumer trust, you must walk in their shoes”

Keys to successful customer journey mapping

What is the biggest marketing challenge facing food, beverage and lifestyle brands? Creating improvements to brand strategy that will deliver more impact and measurable outcomes from limited resources. Here we’ll talk about an important tool that can help remove risk and uncertainty from your marketing plan and spending decisions while optimizing effectiveness.

What do you ultimately need to deliver sustainable business growth? Consumers who love and appreciate your brand. Trustworthiness is harder to achieve than meets the eye. Relevance and higher value can only be secured when the consumer sees your brand as “mattering” to them on a deeper level than product functionality.

Embedding strategic insight and drawing the brand as close to your customer base as possible requires a disciplined approach. The plan strategy must assure that at every key point on their journey to purchase and later hopefully to evangelism, there’s connection with the right experience, the right message that mirrors their pain point, needs and aspirations.

This outcome is made possible by placing consumers at the center of your strategic planning process. To do this effectively and with clarity, Customer Journey Mapping is the best tool to hold the consumer priority feet to the relevance fire. We’re going to walk you through best practices in journey mapping, an incredibly exciting and important exercise that will bring greater resonance to every aspect of your brand strategy.

Ultimately it will inform more impactful and compelling brand communication and lead consumers to a trusted and closer relationship, for the very reason your interaction with them will resonate at each stage on their path to purchase.

The customer journey map process helps you address the following:

  • Engage your customers in your brand message
  • Believe your brand claims
  • Appreciate your brand purpose
  • Trust your brand
  • Buy your brand with confidence
  • Advocate for your brand

Successfully joining your customer on their journey requires you to think like they do. It will entail empathy, understanding and appreciation of their needs and concerns. The map brings this insight to life. Without it you’re really flying blind.

Your first objective always is to add value to their lives

Simply stated, to:

  • Help them
  • Educate and coach them
  • Demonstrate you are showing up for them
  • Empathize with their needs
  • Fulfill your promises

Here’s the Emergent three-step recipe for an optimal Customer Journey Map

Step One – Persona understanding and Insight

As we’ve conveyed previously, consumer purchase behaviors are 100 percent driven by trying to avoid making a bad decision. Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman at Ogilvy & Mather, so accurately describes it, “a one percent chance of nightmare dwarfs a 99 percent chance of a five percent gain.” Accurately understanding and characterizing the consumer’s needs, pain points and “risk” related concerns begins with Persona creation.

Here we identify the key segments of your customer base from early adopters to heavy and occasional users to those motivated more by values or social issues such as sustainability. Within each cohort we take a deep dive on lifestyle, interests, needs, passions.

When fully built out the personas should address these six key questions:

  1. What are the triggers (need/want) that kick off the purchase journey?
  2. What are the pain points and practical needs they wish to solve?
  3. What cultural and societal influences are at play?
  4. Given purchases are largely symbolic signaling now, what symbols of relevance do they look for?
  5. What are the emotional levers that impact their perceptions and actions?
  6. What media do they consume and where?

To do this at an optimal level we operate like anthropologists who observe, investigate and study to know their interests and behaviors.

Step Two – Moments of truth on the path to purchase

The map segments their journey from discovery to purchase, digesting each step along the way so you can articulate what they think, feel and do. Armed with this understanding you’re able to design communications that meet the appropriate moment, thus assuring your brand remains relevant, engaging and helpful.

Here are the seven journey map components

  • Discovery

Steps taken to identify the brand/product choices available for consideration based on consumers’ needs and alignment symbolically with how they see themselves and their values.

  • Exploration

Within a shortlist of candidate brands the consumer is acquiring more information on features, benefits and lifestyle associations. Most of this occurs online in social channels, web sites and media platforms.

  • Comparison

The shortlist alternatives are compared for plus and minus assessments of risk and ability to successfully answer the pain point or desire.

  • Trust check to verify

Consumers look for recommendations and reviews from peers and credible experts or influencers. Their goal is to reduce risk by validating the claims made by a brand on results, ease of use and effectiveness. Social channel proof (testimonial) is a key component in achieving this trust.

  • Purchase

The ease, convenience and absence of friction in the purchase process will influence perceptions of satisfaction and fulfillment of your promise.

  • Experience

Everything that can be done to assure an optimal user experience is delivered to assure the outcome matches the perceived value proposition.

  • Evangelize

Assuming all the previous steps have matched with their needs, the “discovery” aspects of a well-done brand experience will help initiate advocacy, word-of-mouth and sharing of experiences via word-of-mouth and the users’ social channels.

At each step the map is populated with an assessment of what consumers in the moment think, feel and do. This information is used to inform communications and messaging. The right words, at the right time, in the right place.

Step Three – translation to messaging and media plan

Armed now with a full understanding of your customers’ thinking, emotional needs and behaviors at each moment on their purchase journey, you’re in a position to serve up communication and content relevant to their needs as it evolves from need triggers all the way to potential ambassadorship.

Given the mapping focus comes back to what the consumer is thinking, feeling and doing at each step, you’re able to tailor messaging for whichever moment of truth they are in. By virtue of this added relevance, your brand can operate as a guide and empathetic coach at each phase, providing useful information while resolving issues that contribute to perceptions of risk or making a bad decision.

Media selection can be optimized to deliver the right kind of content; from social proof to purchase support and reassurance on issues they care about most. The tool should match the need. This creates greater marketer confidence –understanding what’s going on along the path and knowing which message to deliver. Important to outcomes because the plan now is free from hunches and assumptions about what to convey, when and where.

Mapping the Moments = Momentum

The customer journey map brings added rigor and discipline to the planning process, infuses consumer relevance throughout their journey and acts as guide to message and media based on audience behaviors and preferences.

The consumer recognizes your understanding of them amplified by the usefulness and value of what you’re able to tell them. In the year ahead, brand strategy improvements will be needed to step past the significant behavioral changes and attitude shifts authored on by the pandemic. The Journey Map is the way to get there.

If you think the Journey Map process might be right for you, and you’re interested in help and support, use this link to ask questions about what’s best for you.

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.

Climate change impacts consumer preferences

New climate-conscious consumer has a beef, are you ready?

February 9th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, Climatarian, Climate Change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, COVID-19, Differentiation, engagement, Greenhouse Gas, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Pandemic, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “New climate-conscious consumer has a beef, are you ready?”

Culture change impacts food and beverage brand relevance

There’s a new sheriff in food and beverage town now. A consumer on the hunt for climate- friendly choices. They have a hankering to use the checkout counter as a ballot box to vote their beliefs. Are you prepared for them? Just who is this new cohort rapidly gaining momentum?  As an audience of influencers and advocates how significant will their impact be on the future fortunes of food businesses and retailers in 2021?

Read on.

Five years ago, a great dot-connecting moment transpired when consumers determined that the quality of what they eat has a direct and tangible impact on the quality of their lives. Food retail saw a marked shift in shopping patterns to the perimeter fresh departments as preference for fresh, real food overtook the decades-long infatuation with convenient, inexpensive, highly processed packaged foods and snacks. The aftermath of this transformed ‘what does healthier mean’ calculus and fed the innovation skate ramp of new, entrepreneur created food products flooding the store. These super premium brands-with-deeper-meaning and made from higher quality, ethically sourced real food ingredients have captivated consumer attention and retail shelf space. How many brands of artisanal beef jerky are there now competing for a slice of the snack dollar?

We reminisce on this point just to remind us all that change comes quickly. Our collective goal as marketers is to stay ahead of these transformative shifts. Thus able to help define the state of the art for your brands, rather than scrambling to re-acquire relevance after observing share erosion in the quarterly results report.

Rise of the Climatarian

Another dot-connecting transition is underway. A growing number of bellwether consumers are grasping the connection between the food production system and its out-sized impact on greenhouse gas production plus the climate change threats that accompany it. According to our insight research partner Brand Experience Group, their ground-breaking study on sustainability, estimates the current number of consumers who are passionate about or committed to the importance of “sustainable consumption” at 34% and rising.

The role of meat production and industrial agriculture processes contributing to the planet’s warming is changing the food choice value proposition to invoke a claim that defines carbon footprint. While the word sustainable has gained traction in recent years as a formal player in marketing lexicon, it is acquiring a more specific meaning. Sustainability and climate change are getting married and we’re all invited to the reception.

What’s driving this? In his stellar New Yorker magazine feature “After Alarmism: The War on Climate Denial Has Been Won,” climate advocate David Wallace-Wells paints the picture.

“In California in 2020, twice as much land burned as had ever burned before in any year in the modern history of the state — five of the six biggest fires ever recorded. In Siberia, “zombie fires” smoldered anomalously all through the Arctic winter; in Brazil, a quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, was incinerated; in Australia, flames took the lives of 3 billion animals. All year, a planet transformed by the burning of carbon discharged what would have once been called portents of apocalypse.”

Increased media attention on the issue has circulated data revealing the significant top box role beef and lamb production have in methane creation. Global agriculture practices and meat collectively contribute more to climate threat than all fossil fuel transportation combined. The impact of climate on people and society is being played out in prime time through recurring news coverage of raging wildfires, droughts, super storms, increasing Hurricane impacts, melting glaciers, rising water levels and flooding worldwide.

We’re about to see a shift towards carbon footprint as a definer of sustainability. Those with an attractive, relevant brand story to tell are manifesting this attribute in product label scoring while legacy food and beverage companies swarm to announce “Net Zero” emission commitments. Meanwhile there will be growing scrutiny of supply chains to root out sources of greenhouse gas. The decarbonization of our food system is getting underway. Consumers will demand it. It will be juiced by new food technologies and a cohort of emerging brands that pioneer ways to create food without built-in climate deficits.

Digital innovation will be eclipsed by bio-degradable everything

Alongside global warming is a related developing trend – an innovation heat map swing from digital technology to significant advancements in bioengineering and biofabrication.  A complementary view of sustainability looks hard at the role of plastics and other trash dump materials in so many facets of our lives with a convincing argument that recycling isn’t the best answer. Creating products, packaging, even clothing, from materials that simply disappear harmlessly is exponentially better for the planet.

In 2019, nearly 500 million plastic toothbrushes were sold with the majority of them ending up in landfills and the ocean. They cannot be recycled. Since plastic was first mass-produced in the 1950’s, 9.1 billion tons of it has been created and landfilled – an astonishing 91% of this massive plastic tsunami isn’t recyclable, according to Fast Company magazine. On the toothbrush front, Colgate owns 30% of the entire category and in an effort to end the proliferation of plastic they are introducing “Keep” – the first planet-friendly brush that employs a reusable aluminum handle. The replaceable brush head is still plastic but the design represents an 80% reduction in plastic material use.

Steve and Nick Tidball’s Vollebak, a futuristic brand of men’s fashion, is re-writing the rules and process for clothing creation. Their plant and algae t-shirt is made from plant-based linen and wood pulp fibers decorated with ink from algae. The shirt can completely decompose in 12 weeks when tossed into the compost pile. A shirt that literally disappears. “Sustainability is easier to understand when it involves feeding your clothes to worms,” said founder Steve Tidball in an overview article on their technology showcased in The Future Normal newsletter.

Key to this coming movement of planet friendlier foods, products, processes and ingredients is a revealing focus on the impact of lifestyle and consumption habits on our planet’s health. The realization that what we buy is a reflection of our values rises as a functional and viable path to signal those preferences and beliefs. Consumers’ wallets are used to vote their preferences. This new path to purchase will require brands to look deeply across the organization to determine where improvements and changes can be made to align with this sea change.

Undoubtedly yet another generation of new brands will emerge with carbon footprint claims and planet-friendly packaging as the lead in their brand voice. More innovation is coming. There are, however, business challenges ahead for these upstarts.

  • What is the secret to scale-able and sustainable growth, the path to sales homeruns not base hits? We reveal it here.

80% of CPG start-ups will never get past $1 million in sales

Some new emerging brands have well-connected founders and are able to attract investment that creates resource advantages. “Money can buy distribution. It can buy advertising. It can buy huge field marketing events. But it can’t by consumer enthusiasm. It can’t buy cultural relevance for the brand’s attribute-outcome symbolism,” exhorts Dr. James Richardson, of Premium Growth Solutions.

After an initial, well-funded launch with a strong velocity report card, things start to stall or plateau. What’s wrong is often embedded in the product itself. It just isn’t that remarkable. Or, importantly a narrow, niched positioning causes the brand to stall. It simply runs past its ability to attract an audience sufficiently large enough to keep the velocities on a northward trajectory. Enthusiastic users, perhaps, but a narrow, smaller fan base nonetheless.

Scaling beyond the mid-range isn’t an outcome of more funding or the awareness that can buy. It is delivered by steering the brand towards the right and largest addressable market. Beyond Meat famously did not create a better vegan burger for vegans. They opened the aperture wide by casting themselves as a meat made from plants for meat lovers. They threw down the gauntlet of crave-able taste experience and asserted they were as good as a beef burger. Bold to be sure. The product delivered on its promise under that scrutiny.

The genius was casting a wide net to meat lovers and in doing so working to build relevance and resonance with a very big audience of meat department beef shoppers. It wasn’t because there was this giant standing pool of people representing themselves as “flexitarian.” No, instead they invoked meat lover and by that they meant anyone and everyone who loves hamburgers, the most popular sandwich on earth. The outcome was a rapid rise to hundreds of millions in sales.

Largest. Addressable. Market.

Don’t make vegan cheese for vegans. Instead craft extraordinary, delicious plant-based cheese for cheese lovers. A high taste bar to be sure, but then that’s what separates the extraordinary product innovation from the merely average.

Climate change and bioengineering will reshape the food, beverage and lifestyle brands business more quickly than anyone imagines. Venture capital and innovation will quickly chase these dreams. More higher-purpose brands will be invented. Some will be out-sized winners while some will remain small or fail altogether. The difference maker won’t be the size of the budget and the awareness that can acquire. Sound strategy will play a decisive role in the fortunes (or lack thereof) of these businesses based on the quality of the innovation itself, the size of its potential market and the alchemy of how and where its relevance is expressed.

If this thinking strikes a chord and you would like to brainstorm further the implications for your business, use this link to start an informal, no-charge conversation.

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

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

Pandemic impact on consumer needs and lifestyle

Pandemic Requires Meeting People Where They Are

February 3rd, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, COVID-19, Emotional relevance, engagement, Marketing Strategy, Pandemic, storytelling 0 comments on “Pandemic Requires Meeting People Where They Are”

How you can improve consumer care and communication

In recent days the new Administration has brought greater transparency and clarity to the state of all things Pandemic. We’ve learned about more contagious strain variants, and non-optimal vaccine availability, and the real “final mile” logistical challenges of “getting vaccines into arms.” And just like the proverbial frog in the ever-increasing boiling pot of water, we’ve been reminded that although we’ve adapted to pandemic conditions over the last several months – we are still very much in a state of “national emergency” – a condition which “wasn’t created overnight and won’t be solved overnight.”

And so here we are.

At a new starting block.

Together – with more road to travel.

With these new revelations, people (read: consumers) are still caught betwixt and between the very human push toward any-kind-of-normalcy-now-please and pulling back to be pragmatic and practical in protecting themselves and their loved ones.

This juxtaposition brings ongoing challenges to brand communications for the foreseeable future.

  • Can we (finally) move off of Pandemic-related communication and get back to “normal”?
  • How can we best engage in the context of current consumer sentiment?
  • Do we need to reassess how we’re balancing our messaging and tone?

Pushing too hard toward normalcy now with block-and-tackle promotional messages (not something Emergent recommends anyway) – at best, may be perceived as out of touch – at worst, tone deaf. (Be ready for those social media keyboard vigilantes who will point that out to you and your followers.)

If ever there was a time to take the ol’ axiom “meet people where they are” to heart – the time is now.

As any regular reader of our Emerging Trends Report can attest, we assert that consumers are people first – emotion-driven, emotion-based – replete with hopes, dreams, fears and sometimes conflicted and complicated lives. Like now.

Reaching them today – being relevant and meaningful to them – requires less marketing genius and more real-life empathy and humanity.

While it’s true that the Pandemic has impacted communities and individuals differently, the overall shared experience has revealed five universal themes that more effectively address consumer sentiment and relevance, and are considerations when approaching communication strategies, tone and messaging in the coming months.

Consider these Five C’s of Ongoing Pandemic Brand Communications.

Compassion

Let’s talk tone as it undergirds everything to follow and is the basis of really connecting to our collective experience.

Though some of us have been merely inconvenienced during the Pandemic, others have suffered devastating generational losses – of loved ones – of livelihoods – of places to call home. Others still, are angry about life-momentum interrupted or golden years robbed of time spent with family, friends and grandchildren. Many are and will be struggling to get back on track emotionally and financially.  None of us are totally un-affected. As such “happy talk” messaging may fall on deaf ears.

  • How can your messaging and tone demonstrate a little compassion?
    • Like a good neighbor, have you just checked in with your followers on social with, “How are you doing today?” and then offered words of encouragement?
    • Are you sharing with your community how you’ve been helping and are continuing to help during this crisis – and in a way which is less about corporate philanthropy and more about doing your part

Comfort

Recently, we’ve all heard “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” While, thankfully, the survival-panic demonstrated by The Great Toilet Paper Run of 2020 has leveled out, the idea of comfort – being comfortable – feeling comforted – remains. For some, the idea of getting back to normal is comforting (albeit not immediately completely realistic). Some in the early goings ensured their more indulgent comfort foods were well stocked to help weather the storm. Others still are finding new definitions of comfort in completing “pandemic projects” – many of those in the context of improved health & wellness.  This type of comfort is borne more from achieving peace of mind through boosting immunity and shoring up any perceived health deficits making them more susceptible to illness.

We’re reminded, though, that we’re still in uncertain times. Uncertainty portends dis-comfort. While not as acute as in March for some, the idea of comfort is still sought after by most.

  • How are you telegraphing and expressing the concept of comfort in your communications tone and messaging?
    • Can you craft messages in ways to offer reassurance, consistency and perseverance?

Confidence

The aforementioned uncertainty, the evolving information now being revealed about the Pandemic, and even the elements around the state of our Union have manifested if not in a crisis of confidence – at least a solid pressure-testing of it. As we eventually return to normal life, returning to work or school – enjoying a dine-in restaurant meal – for some, even just getting out of the house – all will require stretching a confidence muscle many haven’t tapped in months. To them this will feel foreign and unsettling as they try to regain their sea legs. Important to note here, that our collective emergence will not happen with a flip of a switch but rather in a slow roll-out – first among those duly vaccinated or as geographic restrictions are lifted. People informed by their various degrees of pandemic impact, personal assessments of their healthfulness and states of mental fortitude will be re-entering at a personal pace.

  • How can your messaging help inspire greater personal confidence?

Connection (and Re-Connection)

Much has been written about ongoing isolation whether self-imposed or otherwise. Plenty of people are still hunkered down or limiting external exposure to protect themselves and those in their homes.  As virtual connection has filled a void, anticipating eventual en masse in-person re-connecting brings much anxiety and complexity for consumers to process and manage. Even with vaccinations administered or others over their illnesses and boasting antibodies, the same public health measures of mask wearing and physical distancing are advised for the long term. That’s tricky – especially as more virulent strains emerge and current vaccines are evaluated against them, and questions abound about how long vaccines and antibodies may offer effective protection. 

Safely re-connecting won’t be like those sun-on-your-face, mask-free, personal-space invading “before times.”

The promise of eventual re-connecting is joyous.

The realities of re-connecting are, well, complicated.

  • Are there ways you can help simplify or otherwise support the idea of safely reconnecting?

Convenience

The Pandemic fueled contact-free convenience expectations among consumers. We’ve become (more) accustomed and maybe even dependent upon online ordering, curbside pick-up, drive-thru prepared meal take-out – even burgeoning auto-replenishment and subscription-based services. It is a new day.  While some may long for the leisurely visit to the grocery or the day spent strolling and shopping the mall – it won’t be at the expense of relinquishing the new pandemic-induced, creature-comfort conveniences to which we’ve become accustomed.

  • What ongoing role is the convenience playing in your communications?
  • Is it evolving as our situation is evolving?

We know that business marches on and there’s selling to be done but for the coming months is it really just “business as usual” as our collective Pandemic experience continues?

Can you spare a percentage of your social media posts to offer support rather than sell?

Importantly, can you acknowledge the whole person who sums up the consumer?

You may find this earnest, authentic approach endears.  

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

Brand storytelling must be emotionally relevant

Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot

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

Turning forgettable messaging into UNforgettable engagement…

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

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

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

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

You’re speaking to a human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The path to better communication outcomes

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

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

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

Want to hear the voice of honest and human?

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

Story structure

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

Stories should address three fundamental elements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brand activism is on the rise

Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism

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

Is your brand’s higher purpose dialed in?

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

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

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

The Socialization of Brands

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

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

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

Brands are now expected to be social actors.

“My Wallet is My Vote”

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

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

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

Alignment reaches a new level

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

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

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

The relationship of food to climate change threat

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

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

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

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

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

Brand activism and brand voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People want to buy their food from other people

Pandemic launches disruption of modern supermarket model?

October 14th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, shopper behavior, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Pandemic launches disruption of modern supermarket model?”

Symphony of logistics becomes an orchestra of societal values

For the last 30 years or more, supermarkets have operated as a highly-choreographed dance of sourcing, merchandizing and value pricing all stage-managed with intricate daily replenishing management of same. It is, in many respects, a remarkable achievement that provides the lowest cost-to-quality food on earth in an assortment depth that is the envy of the rest of the planet. The grocery store has stood as an assurance of food quality and availability, yet now arrives precariously at a moment of transformation that is far beyond the mechanics of coming in-store robots, the challenges of e-commerce friction and assorted home delivery platforms.

Strategic shift underway

Food retail may also be the most visible in-your-face demonstration of traditional brand marketing strategies borne of the post-World War II consumer packaged goods explosion; focused on a more impersonal and product feature-and-benefit form of consumer communication.

A sea change started to emerge in recent years based on an evolving consumer mindset driven about what matters most to them on the path to purchase. Witness the emergence of health and wellness as a primary driver of consumer preference, the attention now paid to transparency and supply chain integrity and a growing concern over food safety practices. All of these emerging trends have eclipsed the traditional purchase motivators of taste, price and convenience.

The Great Pandemic of 2020 pushes the envelope of change faster and farther as consumers not only connect the dots between the quality of the food they eat and their quality of life, but now see retailers and brands as active participants in their social and societal concerns and growing activism.

Two fundamental impacts of COVID 19 on behaviors and attitudes

  1. The pandemic has served to reveal the inescapable, searing questions of economic inequality, exclusion, racial prejudice and its unfairness while lighting a fire to address and solve these inequities. How this plays out will require sensitivity to the issues and strategic planning to address it openly and visibly in policy, procedure and behavior.
  2. On another front, at one time consumers aspired to improvement in their lifestyle through status signaling in conspicuous consumption of brands that elicited those feelings of aspirational identity. However, today this has fallen away, shed by a pandemic that has entirely recalibrated what matters to people. Today a brand reputation is enhanced by its social, cultural and environmental values.

Brands and retailers must add responsiveness to a requirement for higher purpose, generosity in behavior and social improvement to their actions. Do you think this transformative insight has fully translated into how brands and retailers package their story and represent themselves in the marketplace? I would say no. Or not yet, while a few are in the starting blocks and getting ready to claim their competitive advantage.

Recasting the supermarket business model

Here we find ourselves in a moment of mechanization. Robots. Digital ordering platforms. Supply chain optimization. Experiments with drones. Electronic grocery carts. Wringing more efficiency in an effort to get product A into hands B more quickly, efficiently and at lower cost.

Nothing wrong with any of this, except it may inadvertently mask the cultural trend changes that argue for a different priority around how supermarkets organize their business for success and relevance to the consumer they need to keep. Technology has its place, but there is a more human need arising that should be considered strategically, as customer-centric planning becomes a top priority.

Let’s go to the ground on this together, where the food culture ‘rubber’ meets the consumer relevance road:

For over a year we’ve been reporting on the shift to home-based meal consumption and cooking. A fair question then: what does the massive pivot to home cooking mean to supermarkets? We’re not talking about the obvious of selling more products, more often for more occasions.

The intimacy people have with food and its preparation is increasing. There’s another form of ‘closeness’ that is percolating underneath as a potential component of retail strategic uniqueness and differentiation – the two components of sustainable business growth.

People buying food from people

You may recall there was an era prior to the maturing of efficient retail when people knew the sellers and makers.

A relevant story: awhile back I had the honor and privilege of meeting Glen Kohn and his business partner at a networking event staged by Chicago’s impressive food brand incubator, The Hatchery. Later during a deeper get acquainted meeting, Glen spoke in detail about his company Prevail Jerky, an emerging super-premium brand of clean, high quality jerky snacks offering an array of culinary forward flavors.

He told the story of how his wife had food allergy challenges. He wanted to make a jerky his wife and family could enjoy. You see Glen was a smoked meat mastermind who had a personal passion for barbecue, smoking proteins and making his own bespoke jerky. He set out to perfect this high protein snack with a recipe that stripped away the legacy bad-for-you allergenic ingredients and use of nitrates, excessive sodium, artificial flavoring and sugars that dogged this dried packaged meat category since inception.

More magical in my opinion is a preparation technique, and he won’t say exactly how he does it, that improves the eating experience by making the meat less tough and chewy. Ultimately what we have here is another improved, higher quality, better-for-you product in a legacy category, with a personal story behind it. In effect, the food quality is guaranteed through Glen’s personal journey.

Even before the Pandemic sent us behind closed doors and placed an even higher premium on human contact, personal relationships were making a comeback. People want to know who the makers of their food are, where they come from, what they are about and how that translates into the product they’ve created.

  • Increasingly, we see the aisles at food retail stocked with new brands built by a person, not an R&D lab or innovation department. What was once a hall of impersonal, faceless brands, is turning into a showcase of businesses that acquire their social value through consumers’ desire to support an actual, real-life maker.

Makers bring with them values, beliefs, mission and unique standards of quality that provided deeper meaning past the better recipe. Here’s the strategic twist: while local sourcing has been popularized recently, this nuance stretches the idea further to what we’re calling Local-ism.

People now look at purchases as a statement of what they believe is important rather than flags of social status and prosperity. They are voting their beliefs and values with their wallet. The checkout lane is a voting booth. They are electing product winners with a voice, face and story. The intimacy with food goes deeper. The sense of community building gains a whole new perspective. The store is an aggregation opportunity for these stories-as-brands and a place where they can be brought to life.

  • Now retailers have an opportunity to move past the old-school model of being a seller of boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity on hyper-thin margins. Food retail can disrupt itself by becoming a form of neighborhood cooking club that respects the environment and the farm while supporting people who craft new food solutions that come to market with a soul. Doesn’t sound like a distribution center for factory food, does it?

What was once impersonal, transactional and formulaic, takes on some of the pastiche of the corner market where the buyer knows the seller, meets the maker and real trusted relationships take root. This is not in conflict with technology and robotics but is rather an important reflection of consumer insight to better guide retail strategy and banner differentiation.

How to think about this: efficiency only goes so far. Becoming a more human-focused business that embraces the emotional investment people have in food, its provenance and related quality is a path to relevance that beats yesterday’s reliance on store location and lower pricing to create competitive advantage. Amazon may have a tougher time with this kind of thinking.

Recommendations on humanizing food retail

  • Optimize your aisles and product assortment to feature local and emerging brands with a maker story.
  • Use your content creation platform to provide a voice for their stories – and a real, relevant reason for your customers to feel connected to the products they buy at your store.
  • Serve this up in a context that works in people’s lives around meal and snack solutions. That’s the foundation for relevance for the food-savvy consumer.
  • Marry and merge your indulgent food strategies with better-for-you as the relationship between these two draws ever closer.
  • Look past the coupon to start creating other experiences both digital and in-store that showcase your love for food adventure and culinary creativity. Love of food is something you can immediately demonstrate to your shoppers.

When you become highly differentiated, unique and relevant to people, your need to rely on heavy advertising spend to generate traffic declines. When you become remarkable in your shoppers’ eyes, people talk about their experience. Word of mouth is still the most effective form of marketing outreach at your disposal. It is an outcome of remarkable-ness.

Changing perspective may be hard to do because retail traditions and embedded thinking are more about logistics and efficiencies than experiences and food adventures. When the name of the game for decades has been how can we deliver food most cost-effectively – somewhere, we’ve lost sight of the real people who are buying the food – and meeting their needs beyond assortment and price.

When you can see merit in bringing to life the voices and stories of food makers and create ways for buyers to meet them, it lifts your banner above competing mostly on price and product range. That’s a race to the bottom no one wins and plays right into the hands of the endless digital shelf.

A supermarket chain CEO once said to me, “if you walk our office halls on any given day you may find it hard to determine if we’re in the food or hardware business. So much of what we do is too far removed from emotional connections to food and what people use it for.”

You just need to fall in love with food and its ability to transform people’s lives.

If this conversation gets you thinking and you would like to explore it further with like-minded people, use this link to start a conversation without any expectation of a business relationship save we made new friends.

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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