Posts tagged "content marketing"

Planning for consumer behavior relevance

8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning

September 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Influencers, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning”

How to amplify your 2022 marketing outcomes…

We’re in the thick of strategic planning season as food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers finalize their go-to-market strategies for the year ahead.

  • How do you ensure your plans will deliver the most benefit for every precious dollar invested?
  • What are the optimal elements in a marketing plan that will secure consumer and trade partner engagement?
  • What are the must-have components to deliver on your business objectives?

Here we examine the eight key elements of a marketing plan that removes risk and installs trust – a must-have on the road to business success no matter what stakeholder audience you are working to influence.

  1. Business objectives assessed alongside barriers to growth

Far too many marketing plans begin with declarations of business targets served up in a manner that implies it’s simply a matter of turning on the advertising faucet to deliver on the intended outcomes. A richer and more productive internal discussion will occur if the objectives are included alongside an honest, real-world assessment of the barriers that exist to delivering them.

Mind you, there are always barriers. No one goes to market in a vacuum free of systemic challenges and threats to success. It is in this act of realism and reflection that the executive team has a useful discussion on what must be overcome in order to win in the year ahead. This works to remove what we characterize as “hope-ium” from the plan discussion and gets everyone focused on contributing to ways of mitigating or navigating around the threats.

2. Competitive analysis with a unique purpose

Intentional or not, in many categories there is a fair amount of sameness that exists among brands matching competitor moves with comparable programs, product offerings and messages. If a brand is set up from the start for radical differentiation, then the chances of stepping into the similarity trap can be averted. Resemblance is an ongoing challenge in marketing. When communications is close enough that brands could literally interchange competitor names and the key message still works, you know a problem exists.

Instead, competitive analysis should be focused on looking for unmet needs and whitespace opportunities to zig when everyone else in the segment zags. Your goal is to be different. (No, really, really different.) And in doing so, stand out in a sea of category sameness.

3. Importance of consumer anthropology

Perhaps the most important element of all in marketing planning is the right kind of research to help inform strategy. This isn’t about data crunching around demographics of shopper populations. Relevance and resonance are everything to dialing in your communications plan for optimum impact. This simply can’t be done without the kind of insight research that truly peels the onion on your best users’ lifestyle concerns, passions, interests and desires. Users are humans not data points. You will get further by imbuing your brand with deeper meaning that reflects the values and beliefs of your heaviest users. To know them, literally, is to love them.

These cohorts are often the most important to your profit plan as they usually represent those who bring the highest volume and repeat purchase behaviors. The role of your brand is as coach, guide, educator and enabler on their lifestyle journey. You can’t do that without gaining insight into how they think, behave and what they care about. This is different than pushing analytical, fact-based messaging at them on formulation or technology specs. It’s always heart-over-head. All humans are emotional creatures who think and not the other way around.

4. The ‘culture shift’ imperative

Trends are far more important than ever before to influencing consumer preferences. Media influences the crowd and where the crowd of like-minded users goes will simply attract more and more ‘followers’ (this means the social conversation that’s going on matters to your strategic game plan). Right now, sustainability could not be more important as a culture change signal.

A large swath of the consuming public is enamored with sustainability behaviors, policies and standards created by brands to help mitigate their impact on carbon contributions and the environment. It is imperative that food brands with a heavy investment in meat ingredients take this into consideration. Just be careful not to invoke sustainability as a priority ahead of having the right science-based assessments of your carbon footprint. You want to avoid falling into the greenwashing trap. Sustainability is now associated with climate impacts.

5. Brand higher purpose discovery and refinement

Purpose-built branding is not a nice to have any longer. It is a vital construct that sits underneath your organization as a true north of why the company exists. Important to note, purpose is always built around a real human-relevant insight and not a corporate axiom like increasing shareholder returns. It has nothing to do with philanthropy and cause marketing. It has everything to do with a purpose that transcends the product offering and is married to how you improve your customers’ lives and the world around you.

More often than not, we find this key strategy that informs everything the company and brand stands for is under-nourished or treated as a cause-related project. The key questions to address:

  • Why are you in business (this isn’t just about business growth)?
  • How do you deliver on your why?
  • What business are you really in based on your why?

A Higher Purpose platform should be embedded in everything you do across the organization.

6. Evaluating spheres of influence

The internet has fractured the consumer world into micro-communities of shared interests and passions. It is in these communities where people filter, find and decide what to buy. There are influencers within these communities who are important to discovery and trial, to establishing the definitions of what is better and why.

The marketing plan should include an evaluation of these micro-communities and the leading voices within them. Here your brand should engage as a contributor to the conversation. Relationships should be built with the leading voices, not to co-opt them but gain their trust.

7. Assessment of outside third-party expert voices and contributors

Trust is harder than ever to achieve. 99.9999 percent of the time consumers are operating with one goal in mind – to avoid making a bad decision. Brands should engage the voices of outside experts and credible authorities to verify and validate what you want consumers to believe about your brand, business and Higher Purpose. These voices can add a layer of credibility to your content marketing plans and pull in a note of clout to key messages you wish to convey.

How these relationships are created and deployed is key. Be careful not to position these voices as brand promoters who come across like paid shills. They are there to validate, to deliver authentic “reports” on what you are doing. Trusted voices are essential to building belief, and trust is fundamental to your success.

8. A word about KPI’s

These days it’s standard fare to embed your evaluations with digital data given its availability across all of the social and content platforms where you deploy communications. Levels of perceived engagement are relatively easy to come by based on online behaviors. People, however, can also be fickle and unpredictable.

Creating a baseline of consumer insight research is invaluable not only to better understand what makes your users tick, but also to go back in later and assess changes in attitudes and behaviors over time.

These evaluations carry more horsepower because they dig into shifts in priorities, interests and activity on the path to purchase and whether or not your key messaging is getting traction.

All of this great work feeds creativity and informs strategy. It can lead your business to leaps in share. New users will enter the fold because your brand truly stands out for all the right reasons in a category where many players tend to blend together.

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

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

The case for radical differentiation

The Compelling Case for Radical Brand Differentiation

April 15th, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Differentiation, engagement, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The Compelling Case for Radical Brand Differentiation”

Distinctiveness – a recipe to win the consumer’s mind

The greatest challenge brands experience on their journey to stardom (or eventual decline) is an unrelenting force at work that drives sameness into category competition. Ask any brand minder and they will recite their product advantages, formulation improvements and what they deem believe are distinguishing features. Yet in reality these characteristics are often a mild gradation of difference. This all-too-common condition pushes purchase decisions into more marginal and subjective territory such as attraction to package graphics and photography.

If you want to win the battle for the mind, you need every advantage. That begins by recognizing the all but universal existence of traditional category conventions and behaviors. The trick is working overtime to separate the brand from the crowd in your category orbit. Like 10-year-olds at a soccer match, most competing category combatants chase the marketplace ball of go-to-market practices like a rabid pack around the field. They rarely separate fully to position themselves uniquely for a more strategic and ultimately game winning play.

Be different. No really, really, really different!

In every category brands must compete for share of brain, wallet, sometimes stomach, engagement, mattering and value to the user. Yet modern advancements in technology, innovation, ingredient sourcing and production have made it virtually impossible for any brand to sustainably own a secret sauce achievement over time. One that can radically separate it from the other contestants. Copying is now an achieve-able artform.

If anything, brand experiences become somewhat interchangeable and thus can (will) fall victim to lowest common denominator pricing maneuvers that create a pocketbook incentive for switching. On the other hand, brands with deeper relationships and emotional connection to users can overcome the frequent rust of commoditization and marginal distinction.

Here we make the case for radical differentiation!

Let’s work together to break the rules and category conventions of brand behavior by flying purposefully in the opposite direction. Your goals and objectives are better served by creating greater separation than deciding to “live with” the middle-of-road-ness that often exists side by side in how brands package and market themselves. It may feel safer to follow the pack, but in the end home run outcomes are unlikely when virtually every brand bat is going to be calibrated for a reasonably decent base hit with consumers.

  • In fact, different is more powerful than better. Better is always a shade or degree move (perceptual). Unique can win devotion past the purchase decision.

Where can brands strategically separate?

Let’s start with who you are serving. Time and time again we’ve found that redefining who the core consumer is can offer a healthy start on the journey to radical differentiation. “All things to all people” will never be a recipe for distinction.

In every food, beverage and lifestyle brand category there are unique consumer cohorts. We also know that in many instances a more involved and engaged category buyer is often a heavy user who will represent a disproportionate share of brand sales volume and profit.

Narrowing the definition of who you want to serve is your first move towards better brand health, looking for the pockets of greater fan participation and emotional investment.

  • We routinely conduct category segmentations not just to understand different cohorts shopping a set of brands but also to find the fanatics and warriors who are champions of a business based on their lifestyle and attitudinal quirks or preferences.
  • Persona development work is key to helping define these slices of marketplace enthusiasts – those more likely to resonate to what’s on offer.

How do you design for them? What do they want? What constitutes a surprise and delight? How can you enhance relevance and resonance with them? Yes this means picking a narrower audience profile for planning. However, we’ve repeatedly observed this sharpened focus will improve every aspect of strategic gamesmanship while creating efficiencies in media communication. It sets the brand up to really engage groups of enthusiasts rather than being simply noticed (or not) by everyone.

Re-packaging the story

Designing language, tone and story relevance to the right audience is critical to set the brand apart. Spending time navigating Oatly’s website is a fascinating tour of a business with a unique voice, wearing its beliefs and values like a form of branded organic fashion. It’s not for everyone and isn’t intended to be so. It is a separator from all others, a rebel brand archetype that steps away from dairy conventions to do everything differently.

The words and narrative are masterfully curated to reflect the brand’s higher purpose around sustainability and a belief that an authentic human voice is more engaging than clever marketing speak. If the audience focus has first been narrowed to a band of believers, then the story should be refined to reflect and mirror their interests, concerns and values.

Symbolism 

These days product purchases are expressions and visible flags of values people want to be associated with or known to others for supporting.

The Nike brand isn’t really in the running shoe or athletic wear business. It is in the celebration of human commitment to athletic improvement and competition business. The brand is drenched in symbols of belief, striving, personal improvement, effort and achievement. These values transcend the levers of commerce and elevate Nike from all other players.

Can you add symbols and signals to your web site and outbound content that aligns your brand with shifts in popular culture important to your brand’s relevance and resonance?  

Looking for white space (differentiation) and trends to lead (culture change)

White space discovery is harder than it sounds. Our brains are wired perceptually to see what’s there rather than what’s not there. So how do you discover white space innovation in crowded categories? You must become a zealot customer anthropologist, studying their needs, wants and desires looking for under-served or unrecognized need states.

Both Beyond and Impossible plant-based meat companies arrived on the scene at a time when consumers increasingly viewed plant-based products as better for them. A trend gaining momentum across the food store. Witness the rampant growth of plant-based milk brands that upset the legacy dairy industry.

Their radical differentiation was to walk the opposite direction of improving vegan burgers for vegans. They set out to make plant-based burgers for meat lovers. Audacious. Charismatic. An impressive move to assault the beefy meat case. Their claim was bold and unique. The product experience delivered and now it’s a juggernaut of business expansion. A real zig to the common zag of most plant-based food innovations.

Higher purpose

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to believe in brands that share their values, that provide a way to make a difference. When the brand voice goes beyond the product to embrace issues people care deeply about, the dynamics of the consumer brand relationship change. No longer just transactional, the brand is imbued with deeper meaning and the voice gains gravitas and potence.

This is how you create a community of activists, advocates, ambassadors and believers who can see themselves embedded in your mission. Remarkably this tends to lower the overall costs of marketing because the brand doesn’t need to beat people over the head with paid self-promotion. The community has its own engine, pushing word of mouth out horizontally.

Some of the more visible examples:

Patagonia and its out-sized commitment to sustainability

Ben & Jerry and its radical commitment to social activism

Panera Bread and its ongoing efforts to address hunger and transparency

Warby Parker and its mission to help provide sight to the seeing challenged

Timberland and its tree mandate to answer carbon footprint and climate change

Of note, higher purpose is a zig move for the very reason so many brands don’t recognize the value of it, or fail to execute authentically, fully. Higher purpose only works optimally when belief and dedication to the platform is religion inside the organization, flowing all the way through operations, marketplace behaviors and long-term strategic decisions.

What’s your higher purpose and the reason people should join your brand’s movement? Or do you still think a formulation tweak will lead to massive marketplace victory?

Designing to intentional difference

Radical differentiation is a strategic play. It is how you can win the battle for the consumer’s mind when (for the most part) product categories are noisy, fuzzy, blurry pools of sameness. Consider who you are serving and what a narrower focus could mean. Look at white space innovations and trends as an opportunity to step outside the category norms. Change your voice, behave differently at the shelf. Move out of the standardized look and feel in how your product is packaged.

Run in the opposite direction from the pack. You will stand out. People will notice. If it’s done right, it can mean a change in the future trajectory of your company.

Should this concept strike you as worthy of further exploration and you would like to get a fresh perspective on what it could mean for your business, let us know. We would love to discuss how this journey might benefit your brand.

Use this link to open an informal 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.

Big ideas inform business and brand behaviors

How Emergent can help you win in the year ahead

December 3rd, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Activism, brand marketing, branded content, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “How Emergent can help you win in the year ahead”

2021 will not be kind to ineffective strategies

Emergent’s secret sauce is our unique ability to help clients understand and navigate barriers to their growth – mission critical in what will be a challenging year ahead. The 2021 strategic goal posts have already been moving. In sum, current conditions place an extraordinary premium on correctly dialing in your brand’s higher purpose and deeper meaning – essential to creating consumer trust that unlocks the path to purchase.

  • We can help you define brand higher purpose in your category. Translate this understanding into a strategic go-to-market game plan and map your brand’s relevant messaging. Then create the communication tools to help build an enthusiastic core of brand fans who voluntarily spread your message in their own communities and social circles.

Why this matters to you: consumers’ trust in companies and brands has been declining for years. People believe the voices and experiences of other people before they will accept a brand’s claims and assertions. Social proof is the required verification and validation of what you want people to believe about your brand and products.

Our services:

  • Brand sustainability analysis: defining your higher purpose and brand stand that informs every aspect of the go-to-market plan.
  • Connecting consumer insight to strategic planning: dialing in and optimizing your brand’s relevance to consumers’ lifestyles.
  • Messaging and brand storytelling that engages, enlightens and guides: making the consumer the hero of your brand communication.
  • Building social channel strategies and tools that engage consumers in word-of-mouth activity: the most powerful, credible communications tool on earth.

Free consultation and audit:

We’re offering an easy, zero cost way to assess fit. We start with an informal conversation about your needs and interests in the year ahead. With signatures on an NDA if you desire, we will conduct an audit of your current brand messaging and business priorities. We’ll provide our guidance and thinking at no charge. If what we offer creates value for you and further interest, then we can discuss a scope of work appropriate to your unique needs.

Use this link to open a conversation and let’s talk about how to transform your outcomes in 2021.

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.

Marketing planning for 2021

Top five marketing resources to power your 2021 growth plans

November 18th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, engagement, Growth, Integrated Communications, Marketing Strategy, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “Top five marketing resources to power your 2021 growth plans”

What you will require for success in the new year

Unprecedented complexity in marketing channels, platforms and media priorities can subtract from the confidence and clarity you need about where to make the best strategic investments. The potential for engagement misfires (wrong message, wrong channel) is at an all-time high and it seems as though every other day a new media platform rises to claim its narrow territory in an ever more fractured communications landscape.

  • You need a clear path and navigation chart to inform your decisions on where to invest precious marketing assets next year – when every dollar needs to perform like 10 and there’s not a lot of room to recover from mistakes.

We aim to provide specific guidance here.

Fortunately, the marketing game plan priorities are making themselves known. Today we have the benefit of hindsight to examine what tools performed to greatest effect in this uncommon year, and we also have a grip on where to place the marketing plan bets headed into 2021.

Here’s the most dramatic piece of evolutionary perspective unfolding for next year: what’s old is renewed again. I am personally ecstatic to see this change arrive. Read on.

I came up at Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), the first 11 years of my career bathed in the ample light of how David Ogilvy and his immensely talented colleagues saw the marketing universe. While David was a renowned and talented ad copywriter, he was first a business builder, problem solver with a remarkable grasp on the levers of how to grow a client company. He was indeed a holistic thinker.

David was forever espousing a point of view that we aren’t on the planet just to make advertising or PR. We’re here first to:

  • understand the challenges of business categories,
  • help incubate innovative product solutions,
  • understand the delicate emotional characteristics of brands,
  • navigate the cultural issues that impact company behavior,
  • and, inform and educate that most mysterious creature known as the consumer (“who is not a moron but rather your husband or wife,” says Ogilvy).

Said another way, a more myopic view would have us believing it’s all about the ad or PR creative product. Thus your proverbial marketing hammer comes back repeatedly to the same tactical nail. If that were true, our value as counselors, guides and business experts would deteriorate overnight and the agency business would be diluted to churning out cinematic representations of feature and benefit stories. Or the lesser digital display ad?!

Instead, we are tasked with being strategic guides who make our client’s business and category a deep and comprehensive ongoing study involving the mechanics of:

  • product creation and
  • market influences and
  • economic conditions and
  • cultural shifts and
  • competitive challenges and
  • the endless study of consumer and organizational behavior.

In short we are devoted to strategic investigations and assessments ahead of any conversation about a creative idea, in part for the very reason that all of that analysis nourishes enlightenment and leads to more relevant and powerful marketing ideas. The kind that make communications all the more effective at turning the screw of share and volume growth.

  • What’s the definition of a big idea? One that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact and change company behavior and the dynamics of the marketplace in which it competes. That’s a compelling adventure to join and why I appreciated what I learned while at O&M. Big ideas tend to bubble up in the midst of strategic business conversations.

However, with the growth of digital everything, over time the marketing guidance task largely contracted into a tactical role of managing the digital platform du jour and erstwhile electronic flag waving. In recent years the consultive forms of agency and client relationship have diluted in favor of operating a digital marketing automation dashboard. Execution driven assignments more so than operating within an authentic marketing partnership.

Well, all of that is about to change in 2021.

We’re entering an era where the importance of strategy and branding has re-emerged as the decisive lynchpin in priority and design of nearly every go-to-market plan. Why? The toolbox game has fallen in on itself under the sheer weight of so many options competing for eyeballs at a time when consumers are tiring of the relentless barrage. People are tuning out entirely the self-serving, self-reverential bullhorn of marketing message social channels. They reflexively reject that interruption right out of the gate.

The Pandemic has also lowered the tolerance boom on brand self-promotion – while rewarding efforts by enlightened brands that closely align themselves with higher purpose values and drive deeper meaning into their brand story and behavior.

What worked and what’s coming next year

A recent national survey of agencies conducted by SharpSpring revealed universally the most effective outreach tool deployed in 2020 was paid social. Not a surprise given the importance people place on social conversation, the levels of engagement there (which also correlates with the consumer’s prevailing interest in dialogue) and hearing the experiences of others to inform their purchase decisions.

Looking ahead at next year, this same study drilled down to what is likely to be in demand by clients in the year ahead, which also bears remarkable similarity to what clients are prepared to outsource to their agencies.

The re-emergence of strategy and branding as a top priority activates to assure marketing investment decisions will, indeed, deliver on their engagement objectives. This helps to measurably influence purchase decisions at a time when the consumer’s view of what matters is rapidly evolving.

Taste, price and convenience used to drive food and beverage purchases. Now those triggers are overtaken by a host of new more issue-like considerations such as health and wellness, transparency, purpose and values, supply chain integrity, sustainability and food safety.

  • Add to this an emerging concern about climate change and the impact of our current food production system on greenhouse gas (GHG) levels – meat production is by far the largest single contributor followed by agriculture. The food system creates more GHG than all of the global transportation systems (cars, trains, airplanes, etc.) combined.

We are seeing a rise in consumer demand for change addressing their concern to know what the carbon footprint is of the foods we consume. More on this topic to come from us.

Meantime, the verdict is in on resources to receive the most attention and likely investment in 2021 while brands continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic on preferences, shopping and purchase behavior.

The top five marketing needs for 2021

  • Marketing strategy: this begins with insight into consumer behavior and cultural shifts taking place that impact what people care about, and what they expect of the brands that matter to them. Active participation on issues like climate change will be one of them.
  • Branding: the role of higher purpose and deeper meaning are now critical to your business and brand voice. This is not a “nice to have” but a core strategic platform to secure relevance and engagement at a time when people expect brands to participate in making our world a better place.
  • Social media management: social media is a top priority and has remained so for some time now. How brands engage here, support community growth and encourage user generated content, will play a critical role in trust creation. Trust is a top objective and this channel is part of the solution. It’s remarkable that at one time the idea of actually talking directly to a brand’s consumer was virtually unheard of. When it finally arrived many brands looked upon it skeptically as a scary and potentially treacherous and uncontrollable development. My, how times have changed.
  • PR and reputation management: trust is the currency of any brand relationship. It is a requirement. Now harder to earn and maintain, the scrutiny and filters being applied by consumers seeks to determine whether a brand’s activism is messaging masquerading as champion of a cause – or is it real where the brand behavior matches the rhetoric. A recent IBM study on purpose reports that when consumers think a brand has a strong and authentic purpose, they are 4.1 times more likely to trust the company.
  • Digital advertising and re-targeting: a strong and verifiable correlation exists between awareness and velocity performance at retail. The more present and top of mind your brand is, the more likely this recognition will convert to a sale, assuming other considerations on purpose, values and trust are properly aligned. People live online. That bit of behavior enhanced by shelter in place and work or school from home conditions is why digital channels are having a heyday.

Brand activism on the rise      

An important strategic focus in 2021 will be where your brand sits on the fence of increased calls for activism on societal issues. Generation Z, the most woke generation of all, is decidedly focused on this and will be voicing their sentiments in the purchases they make. Their wallet is their vote and symbolic flag to those around them about what they consider to be important.

  • A recent study from Zeno Group found that for brands of comparable quality and pricing, 91% of consumers will switch if one of those brands supports an important cause. That might as well be 100%.

Here’s another way to look at it:

The more activist a brand is, the more earned media attention it’s likely to secure. This leads to greater visibility and brand awareness in trusted media channels – which in turn will help drive recognition leading to higher sales outcomes. All of this is happening in a media model that is derived at lower cost (compared to traditional media) thus helping wring more benefit out of tight budget resources.

The key is how real the brand’s activism is vs. an attempt to “message” around it without the anchoring back-up of verifiable brand behavior. Fake activism is discoverable and can (will) backfire.

If a conversation on 2021 planning priorities would be helpful to your decision making, we would welcome the conversation. 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.

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.

Transformational idea inform company behavior

Come for the strategy, stay for the compelling brand story

September 30th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Come for the strategy, stay for the compelling brand story”

The secret to vastly more effective brand engagement

What is the definition of a big idea?

One that you can immediately detect how it will impact the behavior of a company and brand.

Big, transformational ideas rarely fall from the sky. They aren’t granted by some omnipresent deity of marketing best practices. They don’t appear in a lucky draw of the cards or manifest cosmically in tandem with a solar eclipse.

Big, bold business building ideas happen when strategy and insight coalesce around a path that disrupts category conventions and intentionally breaks the rules of standard go-to-market thinking. It is an outgrowth of due diligence into the conditions impacting how brands present themselves, what consumers want and where gaps exist for leaps of improvement.

Big ideas are not formulation enhancements, more expensive ad campaigns, clever positioning statements, new packaging graphics or extra promotional periods.

  • The questions that get asked when the goal is transformation are more foundational, such as:
  • What business are we really in or should we be in?
  • What cultural shifts are:
    • influencing the way consumers see themselves
    • behave in the marketplace
    • and change what they care about?
  • What higher purpose should we acquire that imbues our company and brand with deeper meaning and potentially leads us to participate actively in transforming the consumer’s wellbeing?
  • How can we fundamentally improve people’s lives and create change that helps them be happier and healthier?
  • What can we do differently in our business, operations and go-to-market plans that more closely aligns our brand with a cohort of consumers who are invested in lifestyle passions we can enable, support or influence?
  • How can we help change the world for the better?

The reliable pathway to transformative business ideas

We have experienced this repeatedly: when investments are made and time is spent studying the passions, interests and concerns of consumers we wish to serve, insight often leads us to the ‘aha’ moment of discovery. These breakthrough insights offer great leaps of opportunity to rethink what the company and brand are on earth to accomplish and how to dramatically build relevance with people.

In these important moments big things can happen, especially when leadership teams are on the hunt for bigger ideas rather than just extending the status quo for another year.

  • Imagine the food retail brand that falls in love with actual food and decides it has more to offer if it becomes a partner on the consumer’s culinary and health and wellness journey, rather than being a conveniently located food product aggregator.
  • Imagine the well-known cheese brand that decides it no longer wants to play in a commodity category with commodity-like business behaviors. Not content to be all things to all people, instead the brand disrupts its category and devotes itself to becoming a partner in the kitchen with people who care about cooking and food adventures.
  • Imagine the emerging food technology company pioneering the alternative meat business that decides it exists to change our future, impact greenhouse gas proliferation and create affordable products to feed a hungry world.
  • Imagine the pet food company that decides earning consumer trust is a top priority and creates an industry-first, all-in platform for openness and visibility to its entire supply chain and product creation process.

Leaps and perceived risk

What if I told you the world around us has changed so intrinsically that the more risky option is maintaining the conventions of routine category behaviors and focus on the features and benefits of product lines – rather than deciding to break with the past and disrupt the marketplace’s existing perceptions of what the business is about?

  • What if making great products were now table stakes and the pathway to real competitive advantage had swung to mining higher purpose and deeper meaning? (It has).

Indeed, that is precisely what has happened as technologies and quality formulation and improved ingredient sourcing has leveled the playing field everywhere on premium product experience. The winners in today’s marketplace are those who have gone all in on extraordinary relevance and connection to people; the brand that sees their role in the user’s life on a higher level of collaboration and partnership beyond transactional thinking that conveys we exist to sell you a product.

Risk aversion can be a killer of great ideas, a smothering blanket that snuffs out the light of reconceptualizing and redefining what the box is rather than invoking a well-worn trope to think outside it.

Ironically, the inclination to avoid risk now creates more of it.

The primacy of sound strategy

Strategic thinking has shifted away from myopic preoccupation with competitive analysis and reaching for an incremental improvement over the brands residing next door on the shelf. Specsmanship and a marginally better offering are difficult to maintain and defend over time. Moreover, the consumer doesn’t care about this like you hope they will.

The rules of sound strategy lean into uniqueness, radical differentiation and devotion to lifestyle relevance. To zig when everyone else zags. To violate the rules and conventions of standard market behaviors with purposeful intent.

  • Inspiring people requires that brands become inspirational. The ability to achieve this state isn’t an outcome of more protein per serving. People are attracted now to becoming part of something greater than themselves. They want to embrace a mission that adds meaning, value and purpose to their lives.

This aligns with a cultural shift where purchases are now a billboard of what people want others to believe is important to them. If a purchase is largely symbolic, then what’s the symbolism embedded in your brand persona and what flags of cultural relevance are flying above your business and its meaning?

This kind of strategic thinking offers the promise of transformational and sustainable growth because the brand is working overtime to weave itself into the very fabric of consumers’ lives rather than being satisfied with the subjective ‘tastes better’ or aiming for less calories and sodium.

Creating this strategic game plan in fact is the precursor to assuring the brand communications that follows will be engaging.

How to build the compelling brand story

We live in a content-driven world now. Brands are publishers as much as they are product creators. What happens to communications when the brand voice extends to embrace a mission beyond the product itself? Communication gains greater relevance and value to its intended recipient because it is no longer a sales conversation. It’s more meaningful.

Every day we are bombarded with paid media telegraphing cheap insurance, faster mobile service and drug therapies that promise some form of relief but with side effects that might make you sick. These interruptions are not wanted nor embraced nor longed for with bated breath. They are tolerated, maybe. More often they are triggers for disconnection and avoidance.

Doesn’t it make more sense to have a conversation with people about something they care about?

If consumers see themselves as the hero of their own life story and the brand continually competes with them for the hero role in its messaging, what do you think will happen?

It’s a recipe for assuring brand communication is ineffective. If the voice of the brand has more going for it than reciting product attributes, think about the opportunity to create authentic relationships with people when there’s more relevant subjects to discuss.

Yes, discuss! Real conversations are two-way experiences. When the bullhorn is retired and the brand is imbued with deeper meaning that has relevance to consumer lifestyle interests, the conversation gets more interesting. Why? Because there is inherent value in it for the consumer and utility to how they live.

When you decide to be a partner with them rather than a product pusher, the door swings wide open for connection. Isn’t that what you really want? The game isn’t about tonnage of media spend to confront audiences with a self-serving message. Instead it’s about how we contribute to making the user’s life better, healthier, happier and more fulfilling. Those are the messages they are predisposed to find of interest and worthy of their time and attention.

None of this can happen effectively if the foundation isn’t informed by a higher purpose and a break with convention to look at the business differently at that fundamental level of why it exists.

If you start there, the opportunity for big ideas that influence company behavior are on the table. When that happens the future trajectory the business and brand take can alter for the better and greater good.

  • Isn’t that something you want to be part of? To inspire people’s lives can be invigorating for all involved.

If it’s time to consider bigger, bolder ideas that transform the conversation with consumers, we would love to talk with you about it. Here’s a link to start an informal 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.

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