Posts tagged "consumer preference"

Brands serve as expert advisors on the consumer's journey

Brands are not products, they are stories well told

September 8th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Brands are not products, they are stories well told”

Here is how to tell them powerfully, persuasively

Brands and businesses are increasingly challenged by shifts and changes in consumer behavior that make it harder than ever to win in the marketplace based on perceived technical advantage, ingredient strengths or special formulation “sauce” as a reason to believe.

Moreover, brand content creation is being held captive by outmoded strategies built on feature and benefit selling that no longer holds sway with consumers who are in a position to ignore it. The path to authentic engagement is now found through hyper relevance to consumer interests, concerns and passions.

What remains most challenging about this authentic engagement insight is the conventional, outmoded marketing paradigm stands as a barrier to securing the needed relevance. The root trouble begins with how brand audiences are defined, in many instances painted with a broad brush that declares everyone is a prospect between a certain age range and household income level. This kind of thinking, which leads to “all things to all people” communications strategies, is a recipe for ignorable and wasted marketing spending.

We have seen this time and time again: when the consumer cohort the brand wishes to serve is narrowed considerably to the audience most likely to become enthusiastic fans and followers based on lifestyle considerations and priorities, the door is opened to almost magical opportunities for connection at an emotional level. Precisely where the brand needs to be by the way, for the very reason human beings are emotional and not rationally-driven creatures.

Success begins with a tighter, more focused and thus stronger go-to-market strategy

When we first were engaged by Sargento Foods, the brand behaved in the marketplace as a commodity cheese player in a commoditized category. Dairy aisle cheese share leader was the store brand and the primary national brand participants, Kraft and Sargento, were in constant motion to manage block cheese price costs to the gap between national brand and private label retail pricing. This was a recipe over time for static share conditions and fluctuating margin performance. For the consumer cheese was cheese was cheese unless provided with another relevant reason to prefer one brand over another.

The cycle could only be broken by first redefining the target audience. Rather than all things to all people, insight and segmentation research uncovered a cohort of the dairy aisle cheese-buying consumer who was all about cooking, using quality ingredients, inspired by chefs, consumers of food TV programming, bought cookbooks, loved being in the kitchen and cared about the food adventure they put on the dinner table.

What if Sargento worked to serve their interests and needs, focusing on the story that had to be created around culinary inspiration, love of food, taste, quality and cooking? This led to premiumization of the entire business, along with new products called Artisan Blends that combined their classic varieties with high quality cheese created by artisan producers, a new premium pricing strategy at retail and importantly, an entirely new story to tell.

It was a bold move. It was decisive. It was focused. It fed a platform of more compelling brand storytelling because it was first and foremost about this consumer segment’s love of food, passion in the kitchen and romance around taste and flavor. This is different than publishing a recipe for lasagna or the next round of ‘buy one get one.’

The outcome was compelling and transformational for the company. Today Sargento is a leader in their category and the move to snack products through the Balanced Breaks line has been a phenomenal success.

Proof that even a larger CPG brand can find a new reason to be and add deeper meaning by starting with a new picture of whom they wish to serve. Then, relentlessly driving on that insight to be hyper relevant to a consumer who is actually paying attention.

Do you know what the deeply engaged consumer values?

The road to engagement is paved with insight and understanding into the hearts, minds and lives of those you wish to serve.

Imagine the treasure trove of understanding the Clif Bar company amassed as they became an early mover in higher purpose brand building, aligning their business with outdoor adventure experiences and cycling. They understood this human because they lived and breathed the same air, participated in the same adventures, and remained steadfast in mirroring the ethos and beliefs of people who were driven to live this way, on a mountain trail on a mountain bike.

Whole Foods was an early player in the organic movement, and then successfully made a pivot to embrace culinary inspiration and the transition to higher quality, fresh food experiences. In doing so they invested heavily in content creation around creativity and inspiration in the kitchen, catering to the lifestyle aspirations of home cooks who found creativity at the stove to be a purposeful and fulfilling avocation.

  • They were a mirror of what people who care about food and love to cook are concerned about. Quality of ingredients is a big deal, and so the videos they created took customers to the farm to meet the grower of fresh strawberries. It was powerful for the very reason it helped these shoppers feel good and wise and confident and connected to the earth and what they purchased earlier that day.

Ironically, when Whole Foods began to dilute this investment and commitment to relevant culinary storytelling, the company balance sheet slid at the very time other banners were closing the gap on store experience, and opened vulnerability to acquisition. We all know what happened there.

Where’s the magic?

Here is your goal, and it’s a big one: content and storytelling that wins hearts and minds is always a story that is worth talking about. This is the incredible creative challenge best answered by master storytellers who know the construction of tales that draw people in, and the role of emotion, conflict, drama and resolution so vital to bringing people close.

This approach is more uncommon than you think. Yes, there’s a ton of brand created content published each and every day, and the vast majority of it is forgettable. Why does it miss the mark so frequently? The disconnect begins with the story. The path to real engagement isn’t paved with rational, logical, fact-based downloads on your product formulation superiority. It just isn’t emotionally moving and violates the number one rule of successful storytelling.

  • The consumer is always the hero of the story, not your product. The brand’s role is Yoda to the consumer’s Luke Skywalker – the wise and seasoned guide who helps the hero overcome their insecurities and lack of understanding, on their journey to mastery, bravery and success.

Rich material is found in what your users care about. This approach is unexpected and refreshing. It can become emotionally moving. It is, dare we say, how to be hyper relevant. You may be reading this and saying yeah but my business exists to sell our products or get people in the front door of our stores. To be sure, but how you get there has changed.

The greatest moment of transition to a new era of marketing success begins with embracing the counterintuitive understanding that your best move is to reflect user lifestyle needs and aspirations, feed their adventures, enable their passions and in doing so align your brand with who they want to become. This enlightened understanding of the authentic brand relationship leads to transformation in the consumer to brand relationship.

The remarkable story is built from WHY

People do not buy products, instead they buy the meaning that sits underneath. Today consumer purchases are largely symbolic gestures to signal to others what people value and what they think is important. This is the story they will tell others (their why). This matters to you because the holy grail of marketing is word of mouth and will remain so for the foreseeable future. It is now amplified by social media channels that enable the sharing of consumer experiences.

The recipe for more compelling story telling is understanding:

  • Insight to how consumers see themselves
  • Knowing what they value
  • Their desire for deeper meaning and greater purpose in their lives
  • How they can acquire a feeling of belonging
  • Their goal to achieve a sense of distinction

We are doing business in the age of distinction

Category to category we continue to find in varying degrees a similar challenge: sameness.

Perhaps the best example of this is pet food, a business riding a wave of premiumization that has closely followed the rise of four-legged family members to furry “children” status. Of course, the one instrument to express the love and appreciation of the new-found value is in the quality of the food provided. Pet stores are chock full of emerging brands and some new larger players like Blue Buffalo who have successfully leveraged this ‘float all premium boats’ condition.

Having said that, the business is rife with similar, unremarkable messaging devoted to formulation superiority claims, the protein percentage wars, and assertions of improved nutrition. Walking the aisles in a pet food store is a living museum to sameness in presentation. So much so it is possible to lift language from one brand, apply it to the package of another and it still remains essentially true.

People are buying the story first and product second.

Imagine the pet brand that understands the importance of the relationship and bond between pet parent and pet, celebrating a pet-centric lifestyle – a phenomenon that is gaining momentum during the turmoil and emotional uncertainty of the pandemic. The ability of dogs and cats to favorably impact the health and wellness of their owners is a true thing. And a marketing opportunity waiting to happen!

Why is putting the wants and needs of consumers ahead of brand promotion so difficult to embrace?

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is coming to a realization that the herculean effort to build a fantastic product is now table stakes. Awesome product performance is a requirement and not necessarily the marketing secret sauce it may have been before. The secret sauce is now found in the hyper relevant, emotionally-satisfying story that reflects the aspirations of the consumer hero and their search for a better, happier life.

Tangible benefits for paying a premium price may be there, but the truth is the price and margin multiple are enabled by the story more than the ingredient or technology.

Here it is:

Great marketing builds a perceptual advantage for the very reason it completely respects how the customer feels when buying the premium solution.

If you need help thinking through how your brand and business goes to market in the era of consumer control, use this link and let’s start a 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.

behavioral science helps us understand how people make purchase decisions

Let’s Unpack the New Alchemy of Brand Growth

July 22nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Marketing Strategy, Navigation 0 comments on “Let’s Unpack the New Alchemy of Brand Growth”

Sustainable sales tied to behavioral science

Early 20th-century Philadelphia department store magnate John Wanamaker was famously quoted, “Half the money I spend in advertising is wasted; trouble is, I don’t know which half.” His expressed exasperation has stood the test of time and remains relevant today. Are you confident your marketing investments are firing on all cylinders? Are you sure the levels of engagement you expect are being achieved, especially in an era of extreme uncertainty when consumer attitudes and behaviors are shifting?

What Wanamaker didn’t have access to in his day were the significant achievements in insight into consumer mindset, an outcome of modern behavioral science. Now, we have a litmus test and series of steps that can be applied to design marketing programs that help erase the sense of gambling that can accompany consumer outreach investments.

  • In this article we will map the journey to more effective marketing communication, a path that helps resolve Wanamaker’s dilemma.

The trouble begins at the front door of strategy when brands focus their messaging and tactics on themselves, their product features and benefits – and not on the aspirations, needs and wants of the consumer. Moreover, unless understanding of how people operate is factored in, the entire effort becomes more ‘luck of the draw’ than an informed, assured path to sustainable business growth.

The most important insight to consumer behavior that drives business results

Recent studies, including a report from Google on mastering consumer engagement, can be summarized in one over-arching conclusion that impacts how strategy is best formulated: Human beings consistently function on a predictable track to reduce or avoid taxing their brains. Researchers call this “releasing cognitive burden,” meaning people sidestep messaging that is perceived as complicated or too risky.

Marketing that is designed to help consumers with their DNA-driven efforts to make decisions easier and friction-free will lift the doubt – and help bring assured victory to outreach efforts. This is especially meaningful at a time when every single dollar spent on consumer outreach needs to perform like 10.

Understanding this path of least resistance, helps explain why emotion is more powerful than analytical storytelling to motivate outcomes and purchase behaviors. The remarkable processing that goes on underneath our cognitive radar is a form of editing that helps us preserve mental energy. The sub-conscious brain has greater influence over purchase decisions than we give it credit.

The recipe for engagement and improved outcomes

Three primary strategic components should be considered in planning, and three tools can be applied to ‘load the deck’ in your brand’s favor.

  1. Message simplicity and clarity

What is the consumer-relevant problem you solve and how do you solve it? Consumers prefer brands that help them, that provide utility and are useful. The caveat here is a tendency for brands to complicate this communication with lengthy explanations of technology and formulation advantages. On the one hand it might be presented as reasons to believe but in reality, this just stresses the consumer’s brain so they ignore it.

Moreover, this approach puts the brand in the role of story hero, which embeds an immediate disconnect for the consumer. People see themselves as the hero of their life journey and the brand’s role should be positioned as their guide and coach.  This consumer perspective needs to be respected alongside the requirement to keep communication simple and crystal clear.

2. Power of social proof

Trust is an essential element of creating a relationship with consumers and moving from consideration to purchase. How trust is created has changed as consumers grow increasingly skeptical of promises and claims made by businesses. In sum, people believe other people first.

Social channel conversations and reviews are a primary driver of trust. This is why consumers will research product reviews and examine social channels to measure the veracity of what brands claim about their product attributes and benefits. The confidence they acquire from the endorsement of others works to simplify decision-making.

3. Authority bias

Alongside the importance assigned to consumer voices in social channels are the words and opinions of respected experts and influencers. Note the word respected here is extremely important. We have ample evidence that certain classes of influencer have grown less effective when they perform more like paid endorsements rather than authentic, independent guidance.

Editorial media, physicians, chefs/food experts, health and wellness gurus and others of similar credential can be enlisted to help educate consumers on the guardrails of how to define excellence and reliability. These views and opinions work as a form of believable shorthand to help remove risk and create comfort in moving consumers along the funnel.

Tactical tools to deploy alongside the strategic components

Behavioral research also confirms that human beings resonate to a small collection of tools that can work to help close the sale.

  • Scarcity – we are hardwired for preference of anything that is in short supply and acquires greater perceived value because it is not abundant.
  • Speed – a newly minted desire borne of the Internet age is our requirement to have needs satisfied quickly. If you can move from transaction to front door fast, that advantage helps close the deal.
  • FREE – this is still a magic word. Engrained in our cultural heritage is respect for the concept of free. If you can include a bonus with purchase or some other value can be attached to the transaction at no cost – such that the word FREE is in the offering, it’s a compelling incentive.

The new age we are in and role of beliefs, values and mission

Another important strategic consideration is the emergence of shared values and mission as a component of preference. Research also confirms that consumers want their purchases to be a symbolic “flag” of their beliefs and what they think is important.

Higher purpose matters. Your ability to weave deeper meaning and a belief system into your brand promise and presentation is vital to sustainable growth. This is an evolutionary change that has been underway in earnest for more than five years. The pandemic has pushed the momentum under this cultural shift even further.

Prestige, wealth and other more materialistic attributes have fallen away while people now believe that brands have a role to play in making the world a better place. At a more personal level, they want to know how brands are acting in their best interests and helping them in tangible ways to achieve their life goals.

The rise of the “B” Corp is evidence of how this can play out when companies design their business to operate in service of others around issues of importance such as hunger, poverty and the environment.

Having a great product is table stakes now. Imbuing your brand and business with a higher purpose is a defining characteristic and quality consumers want. It is another piece of evidence that the company has a moral center, high standards, a value system, and thus can be trusted.

  • All of these strategies and characteristics at a very human level operate as trust creators to ease the buying decision and dilute risk. This matters because human beings don’t want to burn mental calories with heavy analysis of information in order to get to a reliable decision to buy.

Your ability to remove risk and create trust is job one to build business. If you would benefit from guidance on how to bring these tools together for optimal impact and effect, please use this link to start a conversation about how we can help you do that.

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

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

The Relationship Economy

Part 2: The Emergent Credo for Food Retail Growth

October 4th, 2016 Posted by food experiences, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Part 2: The Emergent Credo for Food Retail Growth”

Planning Insights to Leverage the Changing Dynamics

In part 1 of The Emergent Credo for Food Retail Growth we explored the changing dynamics impacting long-term success and growth of Food Retail in the U.S. Here in Part 2, Emergent, the healthy living agency, provides insights to leverage these changing dynamics for your marketing plans.

For consumers, food is a high involvement category. They are ready and willing to get involved with retailers who understand and respect their lifestyle interests and goals.

Supporting these food-centric consumers requires a strategic pivot from transactional thinking to relationship thinking in the business and marketing plan. This can best be described in three words as: help-over-hype: helping the consumer over simply hyping the product benefits.

By focusing your marketing efforts to address consumers as three-dimensional people rather than targets and engaging them as you would a friend rather than a prospect, provides the kind of authentic connection people are looking for with others and with products and services they care about. This is the “humanization” of marketing.

We will witness increased humanization of supermarket marketing strategy through the deployment of respected experts in external and store communication, including:

  • The Chef: Inspiration and Creativity
  • The Farmer: Source and Craftsmanship
  • The Culinary expert: Guidance and Learning
  • The Wellness Agent: Curating Choice and Managing Lifestyle

What role does food retail serve in this new eco-system of food friendly culture and desire for better quality?

It’s all about the food – its preparation and social experiences around the table. Thus, retail can own an important position as the architect of cooking inspiration, enhancing kitchen skills and menu ideas, providing expert healthy lifestyle guidance, while offering unique culinary experiences and sensory adventures inside the store.

All of these insights bear a common element: putting the consumer at the center of strategy and looking at the business in terms of solving their health, wellness and culinary lifestyle needs.

Four key strategic guideposts inform the recipe for growth and success:

1. Higher purpose must drive the entire retail concept and plan.

People buy belief as much as they purchase products. You mission should be front and center in the business plan. And that purpose needs to be a real, human relevant purpose not just maximizing shareholder returns and P&L objectives.

2. Relevant content, information and guidance provide the grist for customer engagement.

Help over hype is the litmus test for effective engagement at a time when consumers run in the opposite direction from self-serving sales messaging.

3. Validation is required to secure trust and belief.

The deployment of outside expert, third party voices and influencers are vital to credibility and to securing the trust of your customers.

4. Store experience closes the deal.

What happens inside your stores is the last mile to a lasting relationship. When your store inspires culinary adventure, and serves the interest in healthy lifestyle – you have the right formula for an enduring and profitable relationship.

By embracing the consumer fully in strategic planning, you immediately increase the levels of salience and relevance to their needs and interests. Retail businesses now operate successfully when relationship building is at the forefront of go-to-market strategy.

After all, we’re now living in The Relationship Economy.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies.  Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for  higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

brand story

The Art of Brand Storytelling

July 8th, 2016 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference 0 comments on “The Art of Brand Storytelling”
The formula to get it right every time…

Been to a great movie lately? One with a story so captivating you wanted to see it more than once? Storytelling at its finest draws us in and makes us feel part of the events as they unfold. We identify with characters that seem relatable to us and we enjoy the rollercoaster ride of action and tension leading to some form of satisfying resolution.

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Symbolic Choice Now Driving the Future of Food and Beverage

May 16th, 2013 Posted by Uncategorized 0 comments on “Symbolic Choice Now Driving the Future of Food and Beverage”
symbolchoicephoto

Consumers are making food and beverage brand decisions based on perceptions of healthier choice.

 

How are you aligned with rapidly shifting attitudes about healthier choice?

By Bob Wheatley

We have arrived in the midst of an unprecedented era where accelerating shifts in contemporary food culture are rapidly impacting changes in consumer demand. Said another way, cultural dynamics are at work that will impact food and beverage preference and purchase decisions. Consumers are in full march to separate:

  • The real from the fake
  • The better quality from the ordinary
  • The good from the bad

This post is intended to break down and summarize the conditions that will move businesses forward or backward based upon their consistency and compatibility with mental markers consumers now infer on their food choices.

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