Posts tagged "consumer insight"

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.

Creative agency services

Time to test drive fresh thinking?

November 5th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emergent Column, Emerging brands, Integrated Communications, Public Relations, Retail brand building, storytelling 0 comments on “Time to test drive fresh thinking?”

So much has changed during the last few months.

Like many we talk to you might be wondering:

  • “Does my current marketing plan still hold up given everything?”
  • “Am I missing something here that could be the difference-maker?”
  • “I’d love to get some fresh eyes on this, but where?”

Every brand in the food, beverage and lifestyle space is going to encounter barriers to growth and unforeseen disconnects in brand communication.

We are focused entirely on helping you leap over these impediments and challenges. We do this by applying our unique ability to weave innovative strategic guidance together with insight driven communications.

The result is transformational acceleration of your business results.

We know it’s difficult to let someone new in the door before fully trusting the players involved. That’s why we’re happy to take on projects that serve as a commitment-free test drive of our work.

You might need fresh thinking on:

  • Transformational strategic guidance and brand refresh
  • Building a compelling messaging platform to optimize your brand storytelling
  • Creating optimal social channel content and credible earned media attention
  • Producing the ultimate video-based story to differentiate your brand and business

Let us know if you are open to a conversation about your next win. We can bring a fresh perspective to a challenging problem or address a specific new product or category creation need.

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

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

New concept in pet brand building: kitchens

Will Pet Brands Stop Resisting Differentiation?

October 28th, 2020 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Differentiation, engagement, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, shopper behavior, storytelling, Transparency 0 comments on “Will Pet Brands Stop Resisting Differentiation?”

How to punch above your weight and win

When shopping the aisles of a pet food store you’ve likely noticed an amazing array of new brand players on one hand, and on the other difficulty distinguishing anything truly unique between the options. Blurry at best as the protein percentage wars rage everywhere around you.

Pet care is a robust and growing business that works to float all brand boats. For now at least.

  • More pet-owning households than ever
  • More adoptions from rescue centers
  • More puppies and kittens at home
  • More mouths to feed

Even in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession the growth record is notably positive.

That said what happens when you reach a competitive tipping point as the number of brands multiplies (supply) while vying for a piece of the current volume and dollar pie (demand)? Right there, strategic best practices highly recommend nurturing true brand differentiation in the eyes of the consumer. When differences are marginal though, then what?

Read on…

This challenge gets to the heart of pet care brand conditions, a business personified by its Low Differentiation and High Durability traits among category participants. This is a healthy business ripe for disruption – when the right moves are made.

Understanding pet brand category behaviors

How is it that so many pet brands are holding firm right now?

The size of the pie is expanding. Brands that are similar to each other while exhibiting staying power are all playing by familiar rules – at least until an innovator comes along and changes the playbook.

A landscape of comparable brands with parallel nutritional claims and ingredient stories, arguing for advantage in the margins, is a living example of:

  • A study in brand incrementalism
  • Marginally better quality to the winners in each segment
  • Pricing that stays in the segment frame, forcing choice on other more subjective cues
  • A curious tit-for-tat marketplace where brands monitor and react quickly to copy competitor moves (ancient grains anyone?)
  • Where staying in the competition is more important than distinguishing the brand as a unique star player

Premium kibble is kibble for the most part, although every brand understandably claims to be nutritionally superior to their equivalent price-point neighbor. That said, the language used to convey better or best bears remarkable sameness brand to brand.

Looking for marketplace advantage

When you work hard to create and earn high buyer value, the end result makes competition increasingly irrelevant. Where the pet business is generally a ground game of less differentiated brands, the sweet spot of disrupting category conventions is secured by moving from lower to higher differentiation.

Achieving greater uniqueness can happen when focused sharply on a marketplace buyer segment – a specific type of customer, where the brand strives to be hyper relevant and meaningful to a lifestyle cohort. Take for instance the consumer pursuing a health and wellness lifestyle, where the importance placed on the quality of what you eat is directly related to their perceived quality of life.

Inevitably, this consumer will transfer that same viewpoint to their pet food choices. While one could say wellness is the province of raw food brands, even there, the word raw has been democratized throughout the category in slightly de-tuned versions such as freeze-dried toppers, chunks and kibble inclusions.

Channel as a disruptive idea

Just Food For Dogs (JFFD) based in Irvine, CA has found a way to re-think the path to market.

Their model involves free-standing retail kitchens that make fresh pet food on premise, a concept optimized for higher income zip codes where the cost per pound is less important to the perceived nutritional upgrade in a freshly-prepared diet. The opportunities for customization to specific pet needs is remarkable and embedded in this concept.

Company President Carey Tischler explained this is the beginning of a national expansion: “our kitchens are an incredibly effective means of showing, not just telling, pet parents how we are different – and how fresh, whole-food can change their pets’ lives. With nine open-to-the-public kitchens serving pet parents today, and several more kitchens under consideration for 2021, our national expansion is already well underway,” he said.

Human food ingredients re-purposed for pet food recipes

Their Chicago kitchen entry now under construction sits cheek-to-jowl with the city’s largest, most progressive and well-known pet rescue The PAWS Foundation – a virtual mini-industry in moving abandoned or stray pets to new homes. Ahem, that’s new food-seeking pet owners. Across the street is Petco, a retailer that is stocking a shelf-stable packaged version of Just Foods For Dogs pet food.

Is JFFD a retail pet food kitchen company with an aligned packaged business to serve consumers where no retail kitchen exists? Or a packaged pet foods company with a unique retail kitchen extension that serves as marketplace theater and demonstration of their fresh food ethos?

Shelf stable versions of fresh recipes

“We view our business as a direct-to-consumer ecosystem,” Tischler reports, “and manage it as such – with each channel supported by our Certified Nutrition Consultants. The kitchens are a critical part of the business model, but they work in concert with our pantries (store-in-store concept) and online offering. We have a lot of evidence these channels are synergistic and effectively support each other, driving brand awareness and offering convenience to pet parents.”

Freshly made pet foods from the kitchen

In response to pandemic impacts, Tischler says the company is leaning into curb-side pickup at their kitchen locations or home delivery through third-party providers.

What’s interesting about this approach is its relevance to a like-minded consumer who sees higher food quality as verified by the fresh ingredients and preparation techniques used to preserve nutritional density. The very same food preferences they apply to themselves can now be delivered to their pet in a Chipotle-like store setting. At the very least, it’s a disruptive idea.

  • Of note, we think Just Food For Dogs has a significant opportunity to weigh in on transparency, ingredient sourcing and food standards to further enhance their nutritional credibility story, although we haven’t seen that manifest as yet. Transparency is a unique point of competitive advantage in an industry where it’s largely a missed opportunity.

Just Food For Dogs is a marvelous study in innovation around a category governed mostly by conventional extruded solutions.

In mainstream retail FreshPet presents an interesting twist on packaged products and certainly deserves the growth they’ve experienced. However, we believe even more can be done to separate and elevate brands above the forest of sameness. Differentiation operates to attract a cohort of engaged, enthusiastic fans who have a deeper, emotional connection to the brand that is stronger, frankly, than a reason to buy focused on protein percentages.

Zig when everyone else zags

In the last seven months the pandemic has served as the most important personal priority- shifting mechanism of the last 30 years, advancing the importance of health and wellness to sheer survival. Taking care of your immune system is now a clarion example of how consumers reassert some control over their lives in an uncontrollable societal and environmental setting.

We’ve characterized this as Health is the New Wealth. Yet this development has not translated fully to pet food.

Pet lifestyle is a real thing. We believe there are ample numbers of households that operate daily around the pet-to-parent dynamic. A consumer insight-savvy brand could embrace a lifestyle platform that rises over the ubiquitous discussion of human-grade proteins and fresh vegetables ingredient trope. It would be a ‘zig’ to emerge above the endless chatter about real meat, chicken or fish and tag the emotional equation of what higher quality pet food is intended to do: The quality of the food provided is the ultimate expression of love for furry family members.

Addressing and leveraging consumer lifestyle affords a much deeper conversation on topics more relevant and resonant to the pet food buyer than food science and dietary claims. It’s also inherently an emotional construct, key to engagement and message impact.

Pandemic and purpose-based brand building

COVID-19 has operated to refocus people on their beliefs, purpose and societal values that contribute tangibly to the greater good. These considerations are influencing brand preference and purchase. Up to this point organic ingredients haven’t been widely employed outside of a handful of pet brands. The word sustainability continues in some respects as a form of check-the-box afterthought invoked like a Whole30 label certification.

Organic is really about farming methods more friendly to the environment and less damaging to our climate. Sustainability, likewise, can be viewed optically as regenerative agriculture practices that if widely adopted could help turn farmland into the world’s largest carbon sink.

These ideas can be repackaged as a move to address carbon footprint, playing a decisive role in managing the existential threat of climate change on our future wellbeing. Could this become an embedded mission for a pet food brand? We think so. Pet food is a very big user of feedlot meat and agricultural ingredients that in a larger sense of their production are among the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas on the planet.

  • Carbon footprint is starting to show up now on select human food labels. We believe this is the start of a major trend. It will be interesting to see how it translates in pet food marketing.

Whether it’s channel and business model differentiation, a switch to lifestyle marketing and communication, or embracing a mission around climate change, each of these ideas represents a potential new tool in the standard go-to-market toolbox.  Concepts that were popularized in recent years by premiumization of the pet food business and the dawn of popular grain-free formulation claims.

The latter became a herd-like move. We observed most premium brands quickly shifting to emphasize the ancestral diet blueprint.

  • Yet this becomes the very reason to consider a strategic move towards greater differentiation not less. If supporting high buyer value – moving past common ingredient stories – makes your competition less relevant wouldn’t you seriously consider it?

We know this is hard. It feels risky. It sounds like bucking category norms. Will the consumer react well to it? Of note, consumer interest is a testable proposition. In what is mostly a sea of sameness, clear observable brand distinction can be a highly prized and leverageable asset.

If exploring new thinking and fresh ideas sounds like a good conversation to have, we welcome the opportunity to think with you. Use this link to open what could be a very interesting and rewarding 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.

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.

Pandemic influences consumer behavior

Pandemic and cultural shift combine for rapid change smackdown

October 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, COVID-19, Emotional relevance, engagement, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Pandemic 0 comments on “Pandemic and cultural shift combine for rapid change smackdown”

We unpack handwriting on the (relevant marketing) wall

If you’re like me, you’re probably exclaiming, “so now what?” Another day and another revelation of upheaval in an era of unpredictable, unsettling events that cause you to sleep with one eye open.

In an exceptional moment of corporate disclosure, Amazon announced that nearly 20,000 of their employees tested positive for Coronavirus just hours before the President and First Lady were diagnosed with the virus. No doubt the pandemic has reached into the lives of virtually everyone with unprecedented and transformational impacts that continue to reshape the way people think, shop and live.

Within the last few days major furloughs and layoffs have been announced simultaneously by a string of companies including Disney, Allstate, major airlines and others as business shortfalls consume cash reserves leading to headcount reductions.

  • Emergent has followed these developments closely. We are examining these events to translate them for useful guidance on what food, beverage and lifestyle brands should consider in business planning and how these issues impact marketing strategy.

Here we will unpack the most significant conditions. Focusing on what informs the immediate future for companies grappling with uncertainty via new revelations surrounding the economy, the disease, climate challenges and cultural disruption – all of which are inter-related.

The end of stimulus and the start of fiscal free-fall

In June media attention shifted to the looming end of Federal stimulus programs. Millions of people who were fortunate enough to qualify for meager state unemployment benefits, saw a life-preserving $600 a week added to their stipend payments. This action temporarily closed the financial gap for families who otherwise would be facing a cliff of cash shortages. That cliff has now arrived, impacting their ability to pay the bills, especially housing and food.

It is unclear if new stimulus support will return anytime soon due to the impasse between Congress and the Senate over the size and components of a national economic support package. Even with House passage of a $2.2 trillion measure, it’s unlikely it will go any further before the election, as both sides draw hard lines in the budget sand.

Thus, the income disparity between wealthier and middle-class families is widening and becoming more obvious (visible to all). Those less impacted by the recession continue to accumulate cash due to slowdowns in spending for commuting, business or vacation travel and discretionary activity in restaurant dining, sports and entertainment. Those directly affected by the economy slowdown experience layoffs, salary or hour reductions and wholesale permanent disintermediation of their jobs, while trying to manage life with quickly dwindling cash reserves.

Middle class spending is an engine that drives the U.S. economy so what’s happening here over time has domino impacts everywhere. It is in everyone’s best interests if stimulus support is turned on, and concerted efforts made to restore jobs or create new ones.

The number one impact of all of the above: stress and anxiety

Whether it’s class polarization, economic and employment uncertainty, concerns over social justice and all-too-apparent climate eruptions, plus a surging virus – all combine with the absence of control over one’s life and surroundings to manifest in a form of anxiousness. It is showing up everywhere in what people eat.

Legacy packaged food brand resurgence is evidence of filling a need for:

  • Comfort
  • Familiarity
  • Satisfying stress eating behaviors by reaching for higher fat and carb foods that somehow make people feel better. Apparently, a bag of chips is self-medicating. However, 27% of American adults are also reporting 5 or more pounds of weight gain since March – a troubling development especially as a good portion of the country experiences declining seasonal temperatures and more inactive time spent indoors.

As a sort of ‘flip side’ of this culinary coin, stress eating behaviors leading to high fat and carb foods, has its own polar opposite: the growing search for low sugar foods in an effort to exert more control over health and wellness at a time when investments in immune system integrity are a top priority for many people.

On the retail side, we’re witnessing a related swell in transactions and channel migration to hard discount. Not a surprise under these conditions. Again, we see the presence of an alter ego for stores in higher income zip codes. These retailers may see increasing opportunities for trial and volume growth of premium indulgent food and beverages. It’s just ‘nuts’ if you get my meaning.

Work-From-Home (WFM) not going anywhere

As we pour through reports on the status of WFM, we conclude this phenomenon isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Now breakfast and lunch are prepared and consumed at home, adding to the need for guidance, kitchen counter coaching and convenient solutions. In many places the kids remain home for school as well, adding to the pressures in meal preparation. Can you help with emotional support, menu guidance and prep ideas?

Meal kits took a beating pre-COVID due mainly to cost and complexity. Now kits are returning as a viable way to vary menus and fulfill consumer interest in sophisticated (global) flavors and restless palate syndrome borne of at-home cooking boredom. Grocery retailers have an opportunity here to showcase kits in varying degrees of ‘do-it-for-you’ to meet the interests of the scratch cookers and those who are simply exhausted with all the constant chopping and slicing.

The Wheatley kitchen is a veritable round robin of cutting boards, knives, saute’ pans, bowls and leftover containers as two teenage daughters exert control over their food preferences, while the parents handle another portion of the chores. It’s an unending cycle of cooking and cleaning. I’ve not seen teenagers with such accomplished knife skills and baking expertise except on Chopped Kids.  

  • Snacking is now a 24/7 activity. The room for brands to play here is nearly infinite. The refueling is almost non-stop, some of it functional and some indulgent.

The opportunities for brands and retailers to become a partner with people in the kitchen has never been higher, yet so few are stepping-up to the plate. Perplexing.

E-commerce crazy

Time is all we have. How we spend it is all that matters. Why will e-commerce become such a dominant channel? Because it is built to give back time. The pandemic closes the door on casual browsing and spending extra quality time in brick and mortar retail. Shopping trips are fewer and purposeful, aimed at minimizing viral exposure.

Meantime the seamless digital shopping platforms people encounter are getting better and better. We’re now at a $70 billion run rate in e-commerce transactions. Experts in the field believe once you pass 50% of typical transactions in food or lifestyle, the tipping point may very well have been reached. Not there yet, but the leaps in digital purchasing this year are significant.

At this stage, as good online experiences and comfort level take over, people begin to appreciate the time they’ve been given back by avoiding the hassle of driving to and running the cart through stores.

That doesn’t mean retail disappears, far from it! It does mean that shopping experience and environment must be on a whole other level to romance and engage people in a sought-after and magnetic reason to be inside your doors. Disney does magic well, so should you.

Shopping for what?

According to IRI data through mid-August, the top five categories in retail sales volume are:

  1. Health care products
  2. Frozen meat/poultry/seafood
  3. Personal cleansing
  4. Other refrigerated
  5. Baking

Within the top 25 categories in sales growth, frozen and refrigerated holds 14 of them. Evidence that consumers care about preserving shelf life and guarding against food waste and scarcity, while the baking binge is no fluke. It is an effort to bring control back during an era when there is a predominant feeling of none.

Strategic direction: identify passionate cohorts, apply hyper relevance

If you can step back and see your marketing and communications strategies remains widely targeted at virtually every human on earth, now is the time to prune. The need for mattering has never been greater. Achieving that enviable position isn’t easy and requires significant focus and discipline.

Step One –

Identify the most committed and passionate consumers of your product or shopper groups in your stores. What do they care about, how do they live, what are the pain points they need to solve? Your goal is to become a refined and optimal solution to their problem. To get there you need to lean hard on the strategic thinkers and those with insight to consumer behaviors on your team. This is true customer-centric planning.

Step Two –

The goal of your marketing is hyper relevance to these consumers, to the point where they see a mirror of themselves in how the brand communicates and behaves. Your values and theirs become one. You step fully into higher purpose and deeper meaning with this cohort (there may be cohorts). Whatever end of the economic spectrum, you lean in to where they live and how they feel. You’re looking for common ground and ways to be of help. Your value proposition isn’t just the product or store. It’s how you tangibly work to improve their lives.

Step Three –

Your communications and content creation should be packed with advice, guidance and counsel. You walk away from the temptation to self-promote and instead focus on them and their stories. You enable social proof mechanisms and encourage people to share experiences because you know it’s credible proof of what you want them to believe. Your storytelling expands to address the higher purpose you’ve adopted and how you are helping improve the world around us. You now know it matters to consumers who expect this of you.

We understand that people are now literally consuming their identity. What they buy is a flag and mirror of their values, beliefs and what they hold to be important. Symbolism can be everywhere in every place that consumers encounter your brand and business. Are you deploying the markers and images they will recognize of lifestyle relevance?

The horizon: climate change

Looking ahead, what’s coming is a move to connect food and beverage choices with carbon footprint and impacts on climate change through contributing to the growth of greenhouse gases. There is genuine fear among people that food production is irrevocably linked to creating damage to the climate, leading to super storms, droughts and wildfires.

This issue is going to climb in visibility and importance. Brands have an opportunity to get in front of this concern and be part of the dialogue. The roots of this will inevitably go back to supply chain decisions and how foods are farmed or raised. To that end regenerative agriculture is going to rise as a priority and people will be looking for these practices to show up in an industrialized agribusiness that isn’t operating with these principles in mind.

The great promise of this type of farming is reversal of eroding soil conditions and processes that could help farmland become the world’s largest carbon sink. This is a horizon issue now but is rapidly building momentum.

Worth paying attention to.

As you consider the path forward, if expert guidance would be beneficial in your planning use this link to open a conversation. We would be delighted to help. Emergent’s mission is to marry marketing expertise with our belief in the rising importance and value of healthy lifestyle to the future success of relevant food and beverage brands and retailers.

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.

Gen Z Activism

Food Purchases Are Now a Signal

September 21st, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, engagement, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, Insight 0 comments on “Food Purchases Are Now a Signal”

What we buy is a waving statement of belief

Once upon a time food was food. Might be indulgent food or healthy food, but its reason for being resided somewhere between enjoyment, sustenance or weight management. The world around us has shifted once again as cultural influences work to redefine the paradigm of what food purchases are really about.

The implications here for food and beverage marketing cannot be understated: you might agree relevance to consumer interests is paramount to communication effectiveness. Thus, the impact of cultural upheaval manifesting in consumers’ lives is critically important to strategy and gaining a meaningful connection with people.

Food purchase is a cultural expression of _____________.

In 2019 Deloitte published the results of a consumer survey that revealed an emerging trend in brand preference: people believe brands have a greater responsibility to act on purposeful issues. Concerns such as how companies treat employees, impact on the environment and the communities where they operate surfaced as emerging drivers of brand preference.

This followed another Deloitte study conducted in collaboration with the Food Marketing Institute (recently re-branded as The Food Industry Association), that showed for the first time in modern history the standard food and beverage purchase motivations of taste, price and convenience were being eclipsed by interest in transparency, health and wellness, visibility to the supply chain and food safety.

What’s happening is the socialization of food and its purchase.

Increasingly, food brand selection and purchase is a telegraph of personal values and beliefs. You might be wondering, what’s driving these changes. In the U.S. there are now over 21,000 food centric blogs, an astounding bit of evidence of how food culture has risen to lifestyle prominence in the lives of most people.

  • Perhaps this was inevitable as consumers across all generational cohorts connected the dots between the quality of the food they consume and the quality of their lives. What is happening now is nothing short of revolutionary as the purpose of food acquires an even higher and symbolic purpose.

Food has always been important but now gains influence beyond consumption. People are emotional creatures and food is an emotional category that plays directly to human senses. Now, that significance is acquiring a new set of values that extends way past the physical aspects of the products’ use and roles in daily diet.

Wildfires and Green New Deal

When I was 16 my priorities were centered on how to go about buying a car and in doing so seal the path to my independence. Recently my 14-year old daughter announced her intentions to take assets from her babysitting earnings and donate them to organizations addressing hunger and racial inequality. Cultural and value changes reveal a different and more enlightened point of view on what matters. In turn, it is vital for brands and businesses to gain understanding on ‘mattering’ at a time when attitudes and importantly priorities are being reframed.

Generation Z is coming of age as an activist population focused on changing the way we live to take better care of the world around us. If you pay attention you hear the voices of concern rising around climate change and its rapidly building momentum to permanently alter the social and political landscape. Wildfires and super storms provide evidence that the way natural resources have been exploited has a serious downside. More specifically, how the food production, agricultural and energy industries are operating in service of convenience and consumption, and simultaneously exacting a horrible toll on the health of the planet and her inhabitants.

The Sunrise Movement and Green New Deal are being championed by the youngest generation. Their future quality of life may well depend on how fast changes can be created in the current systems that generate greenhouse gases fomenting weather related catastrophes, drought leading to fires, rising coastal water levels and the ongoing impact of melting polar ice caps.

Chief among the contributing threats to climate is the global food system and animal production in particular that collectively create more greenhouse gas than all worldwide transportation systems combined.

Generation Z now views purchase decisions as a path to creating a better world. In their view, if you’re not an active, visible part of the solution – your inaction is part of the problem.

“Power of the Purchase Order is Primal”

Errol Schweizer, producer of “The Checkout”, an industry trend watcher podcast, did a recent interview with Kevin Coupe’s Morning Newsbeat e-newsletter. Kevin asked, considering these societal changes on the horizon, what’s the one thing food retailers can do to build their relevance and value?

“Increase the amount of organic and regeneratively produced products that you sell. The organic trade association recently released a whitepaper that provided scientific proof organic agriculture can help mitigate the impact of climate change,” said Schweizer. He states this type of food production helps sequester carbon, reduces use of fossil fuels while also producing more nutrient dense food.

His call to action: keep growing your organic business. As a retailer you can do this, and it’s relevant to what people want anyway. He exhorts the retail purchase order can be a powerful instrument in helping answer the need for change. The cultural manifestations of food socialization are significant and will impact how retail strategy and brand building are conducted.

Food as a tool of self-definition

(The New) Brand Democracy:

I believe brands can be a powerful force for change.

I expect them to represent me and solve societal problems.

My wallet is my vote.

Increasingly, meaning is unearthed in consumption. Said another way, the food people choose is an advertisement of who they want to be and what they believe in. When purchases become a billboard for values, the marketing, product creation and innovation decisions need to reflect this insight.

Is it possible we are nearing an era when determining the contribution to greenhouse gas in production will matter as much as ingredient quality and nutrient density? The answer here is ‘yes’ and it’s coming more rapidly than previous developments such as the demand for greater transparency.

At Emergent, we suggest that successfully navigating these waters of change in human behavior can be best accomplished by brands and retailers who come to work bearing a soul – one that governs their actions and informs decisions.

When consumers see purchases as a path to creating a better world, it should play out in the brand voice, content marketing strategy and all that sits underneath.

Guidance to improved relevance in a time of cultural shift:

  • Listening is important and should be formalized as a consistent undertaking to understand the development of emerging attitudes and opinions that impact how consumers see the role of brands in their lives.
  • Building a higher purpose platform for the brand and business is now table stakes to continued relevance and connection with your users.
  • Identify specific actions your business can take to address climate change including how your supply chains operate and the standards and certifications of performance you require for compliance.
  • How can your brand contribute to the cultural conversation? What needs are you uniquely positioned to address?
  • Tell your users what you’re doing an engage them in a dialogue on their views and opinions.
  • Recognize that food is a tool of self-definition and a symbol to others of what your users think is important. How does this influence your messaging and social media strategies?

If you find this development challenging and want to consider a fresh approach, please use this link and let’s start a conversation about your questions and interests.

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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