Posts tagged "food and beverage"

How to Build a Trust Engine

April 18th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Higher Purpose, Social media, Transparency 0 comments on “How to Build a Trust Engine”

Investing in Trust Can Deliver Marketing Efficiencies

For the last millennia, the currency of food, beverage and retail brand marketing has been awareness generation. More money has been spent in pursuit of the holy grail of being top-of-mind than any other single objective; for the oft claimed reason that awareness ideally is supposed to drive consideration and purchase. Or said another way, it’s based on the self-reverential belief that if the consumer sees a product message enough times they will buy because, after all, the product is so alluring and necessary.

What if this point of view were wrong-headed and spending dollars devoted solely to awareness creation tactics was akin to spraying water in the desert in the hopes that crops will magically manifest themselves? There may be some benefit to being continuously present for low involvement categories but even there, awareness doesn’t automatically ladder up to brand preference any longer.

Significant cultural shifts have reframed the paradigm on how brands are built that favors mattering and deeper meaning over spraying product claim messages everywhere. The focus should be on narrow-casting to an engaged audience rather than broadcasting in an effort to capture every eyeball. Mission, relevance and lifestyle connection are more important than being ubiquitous in today’s marketing best practices.

  • This brings us to banishing one myth at the start: you don’t need to appeal to everyone to be amazingly successful. In fact, the 80/20 rule prevails in many food and beverage categories — most of the revenue and profit will be derived from a relatively small cohort of committed users.

However, despite evidence that consumers tune out most of the overt marketing noise around them, we find ourselves at Emergent in the midst of frequent conversations about metrics and measurement that mostly calculates assessments of awareness building. Call it a hold-over from the Madison Avenue era, the enthusiasm for tactics in pursuit of that goal remains a dominant conversation in some annual strategic plans and spending priorities.

What if there were a better, more cost efficient and effective way to go to market?

Today, trust is the currency of successful marketing between consumers and product or retail brands. Trust cannot be ordered up from central casting. It must be earned through how the company and brand conducts itself and how its purpose is defined and brought to life.

Here is the simple truth: building trust is more cost efficient than chasing awareness. Yet companies typically outspend efforts to convert and retain customers by a 42 to 1 margin in favor of awareness building tactics. Hard to let go apparently.

What if your best customers ran your marketing?

Well of course the first push-back would be they don’t know what the company knows about the product, brand or retail deep background on features and benefits, and further they aren’t versed in the details and strategies of positioning and marketing messaging.

A moment then to pause and reflect. Feature and benefit type selling isn’t what it used to be. In a marketing environment filled to the brim with claims, assertions and hype, people increasingly find it hard to believe any of it. Additionally, consumers work overtime to avoid overt, interruption style marketing tactics. What they do understand is their own hopes, wants, dreams and aspirations.

When marketing works to align with what’s relevant to your best users, the effort takes on a whole new meaning. The goal of your strategic plan is to earn trust and that won’t happen when talking ‘at them’.

What does a trust creation engine look like?

Here are the fundamental tenets of customer-first marketing:

  1. You have to understand and care about their interests first, before yours. This requires some investment in insight research designed to better analyze what they care about. Assumptions in this area are often off the mark.
  2. Map ways your brand can make a real difference in their lives. Be intentional here.
  3. Effectiveness is achieved when your plans and messaging align the brand and business as an enabler of their hopes, needs and answers to their concerns.
  4. Be transparent and honest in your actions, business practices and communications. No more ivory tower thinking, which is now made of glass anyway.
  5. Extend transparency to openness about product creation, standards, supply chain and other aspects of how the business operates that your best customers will want to know more about.
  6. Create outreach programs around content that is relevant and meaningful to them. By definition this requires being less self-absorbed in what is conveyed. This will require a disciplined effort to refrain from the all-too-common trope of shameless self-promotion.
  7. Look to create and optimize the experiences and interactions consumers have with your brand to ensure they’re walking away with something of value (not money) to them beyond the transaction.
  8. To inform this effort, it is vital for the company and brand to build and understand its unique higher purpose and mission that transcends commerce — and creates a runway for communication around issues of meaning and importance to people and their values.
  9. Make doubly sure the company’s actions, policies and behaviors align with the mission. When ‘mission’ appears to be bolted on as a marketing maneuver and not an expression of true belief, it will fall flat.
  10. Want to have a more meaningful relationship with your best customers? Then imbue your brand with greater, deeper meaning.

No amount of marketing magic can save a soulless business or an unremarkable product. The goal of the business is to strive daily to be special, unique, memorable, useful and valuable. The foundation on which your customer relationship is built has to be about more than the product alone. That said the product is in many ways your true north so investing in quality at every point in the customer experience is now table stakes.

Without trust there is no possibility of a real relationship and the business will eventually become a commodity bought on price. Anchoring the marketing plan to trust creation is the path now to sustainable growth. It just also happens to be a less costly journey than chasing awareness for the very reason that focusing on the consumer’s needs and journey doesn’t require massive amounts of media to become sticky.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Marketers Seek New Strategies as Consumer Trust Declines

December 11th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Transparency 0 comments on “Food Marketers Seek New Strategies as Consumer Trust Declines”

Food and beverage brands must move to new story…

Growing consumer concerns over health and wellness.

Evolving expectations around higher product quality.

Emerging calls for greater transparency and truth in labeling.

General cynicism toward marketing that sells ‘at them’.

In study after study consumers continue to show their lack of trust while demanding more honesty from brands vying for their spending — with rewards going to those brands that ‘get them’.

Some marketers have attempted to force-fit traditional claim and assertion style marketing tactics into digital platforms but with little success. To consumers, it still smells like conventional spin so they work to avoid it entirely.

Other marketers have smartly moved their strategic game plan to focus on building more respectful consumer relationships around alignment with lifestyle interests and aspirations.

  • Yet new information and insight now coming to light suggests, while lifestyle connections remain important, there’s a new sheriff in town governing what breaks through the clutter to secure brand consideration and selection.

In many respects, this revelation makes absolute sense based on our deeper understanding of consumer skepticism and absence of trust combined with their desire for honesty, authenticity and expressions of a true soul coming from brands and businesses they choose to favor.

Seekers of truth and understanding

We’ve come to a place where marketers recognize consumer interests more fully, texturally, as they evaluate new and emerging food brands with a merit-based system. It’s important to note here first, the fundamental requirement for business growth in any category requires an unshakeable bedrock of clear brand differentiation.

Around the unwavering consumer call for standout uniqueness is an equally strong desire for better products that are also better-for-you, and culturally connected to relevant social issues such as sustainable farming, green environmentally-friendly operations and animal welfare. 

The new secret sauce for accelerating food brand growth

In a recent Premium Marketing Strategy report by food industry trend expert The Hartman Group, a survey question was posed: what kind of narrative would likely cause you to select a new premium brand?

The answer wasn’t about better price or taste. Rather, consumers wanted to know more about how the product was made. Followed in close order by a related topic – the source of ingredients used to make the product; in sum, the product creation story.

So what does this mean?

It’s a gigantic red, neon flag waving three feet in front of every marketer. Consumers want to assess the merits of the food or beverage based on how and who created it.

Contained in the details of this product creation backstory is the necessary evidence of quality, healthfulness, and connection to culturally relevant practices and beliefs. Rather than accept assertions on face value, consumers want to peer under the hood, and in doing so, narrow the chance of being influenced by proverbial brand apple-polishing.

  • It’s one thing to claim better-for-you, and it’s entirely another to reveal ingredients, processes, methods and sources that authentically demonstrate healthy and higher quality.

How to be the credible brand storyteller – Show Me!

So you sell hamburgers… where did the beef come from, who raised the cattle and how were they fed and cared for? About the bun and vegetables used, same need. What are your standards of quality and what about the relationships with your suppliers; their carbon footprints? How is the hamburger prepared, what evidence can be provided about food safety, ingredient integrity and freshness?

No matter the category, there’s a transparency story underneath about how you make things, how you source ingredients and what goes on in your kitchens.

This is the information that forms the basis of earning brand trust and evaluation of the brand’s relevance to consumer beliefs and cultural affiliations. Said another way, the product creation story isn’t a nice to do, rather it’s a must do in getting to active consideration.

Worried that this kind of information demand will be difficult due to weaknesses in your creation story? Then, you have a mandate to make improvements. It may be time to recognize that new premium food solutions are growing while many legacy brand businesses are losing share of heart and sales.

The strategic recipe

Armed with this consumer insight, the food and beverage path to marketing best practices begins with creating an inventory of competitively strong product attributes. These attributes will inform the rationale for how the product will credibly deliver on its key benefits.

  1. Important to note this should be cast as unique attributes that help elevate and separate the product from competing brands, and that make the product better at delivering its promised benefits.
  2. Competitively significant attributes are then integrated in storytelling about product creation and ingredient sourcing.
  3. This means elevated, premium production and sourcing criteria outweigh benefits in the hierarchy of successful brand outreach strategies. Thus, it’s important to cite value-added attributes not offered by legacy brands.

As the decline in consumer trust continues to chip away at the authority curve for brands, what moves in to fill the vacuum left when assertions and claims don’t resonate? A new era of food and beverage marketing opens based on a real-world reality-check about what’s inside the product.

Tangible, visible evidence of quality now passes assertions of quality in effectively reaching consumers with the motivating message. What the consumer is really saying: Show Me!

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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.

Mining for Growth: The Consumer’s Relationship with Food

March 2nd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Culinary lifestyle, Digital marketing, food experiences, Healthy Living, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “Mining for Growth: The Consumer’s Relationship with Food”

Marketing and the day’s main meal

Cultural shifts and changes impact how consumers treat eating occasions. This condition becomes even more important as people no longer build their schedules around mealtimes. The script has flipped and thus mealtimes are arranged to facilitate the daily schedule.

In this new world order that puts time and where it’s spent at a premium, distinct functional requirements have surfaced around the consumer’s objectives for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast now orbits the purposeful necessity of energy needs and is often governed by habit and routine. It’s also subject to elimination at times. Whereas lunch often falls victim to another evolving behavior – snacking. Like the start of the day, lunch serves as another fuel-stop to drive the personal engine, often while navigating a complex schedule and a fluid set of time priority constraints.

The dinner bell singularly chimes as a culinary and social oasis…

Dinner continues to hold steadfast as the clear winner in time devoted to food thinking, planning and engagement – offering a unique opportunity for brands to become enablers and participants in a personal and social culinary journey.

  • Dinner is a food-forward rite where the meal and menu serve as a means to elevate enjoyment, self-esteem, creativity, exploration and social engagement.

Breakfast, lunch and snacking reside in a practical, efficiency zone. The consumer’s brain-time investment is just different than dinner. In the evening, according to The Hartman Group’s Transformation of the American Meal report, the experience around food and preparation takes on a higher level of priority and added meaning.

What does the consumer aspire to do with dinner?

Hartman reports to fulfill their expectations for:

  1. Good food – nutritious and delicious
  2. Good cooking – skillful, personalized and often from scratch
  3. Good company – enjoyable moments and warm conversation

So, the logistics around dinner are on another level entirely for food sourcing, creativity, time spent and energy invested by home cooks and their helpers. Simply stated, dinner is less routine, not snack-ified and works to satisfy the yearning for shared food adventure.

As a marketer could you find more fertile territory for engagement than the one meal occasion where inspiration and help are clearly needed?

Dinnertime is a clear pathway to relevant engagement

Dinner is rich connection territory and we’re not just talking about flavor profiles. Dinnertime is an open field for resonance exploration and relationship building for both CPG food and foodservice.

When the day has been too mentally and maybe even physically taxing, outsourcing the evening meal is on the agenda. That said we know from secondary studies that people prefer home-cooked meals when they can do it and believe those meals are universally healthier – as home cooks are able to control ingredients, preparations and portions.

However, when scheduling overload collides with evening mealtime needs, restaurant and other “do it for me” solutions hold sway. Meal kits sit in an interesting position as low-risk enablers of culinary exploration, while also making it easier to deliver a high-quality meal with less effort mentally and at the stove.

Ordering food for delivery or visiting a restaurant shifts the balance of time investment from culinary work to social interaction – an important component of the evening mealtime experience.

The eco-system of needs and requirements for the evening meal is a place where brands can play a pivotal role. Key direction: help make dinner meal planning and execution more enjoyable.

Areas to leverage strategically:

  • Health and wellness – key to lifestyle preferences across the board. What’s the bulls-eye? Helping people bridge their interests between healthy ideals and indulgent desires. Now that higher quality food experiences have become the new healthy, the door is open to blending these two universal human needs.
  • Palate planning – for the most part dinner has increasingly become a just-in-time mini-shopping event as people, often coming from work, stop at the store to shop for menu ingredients. Right there is a moment of uncertainty that can become more purposeful with the right menu ideas and curated shopping lists.
  • Social connection – the social milieu around dinner is an interesting pastiche of enlivened senses, warmth, close attention and enjoyment that enables sharing and conversation. The dinner table is more than a piece of furniture. It’s a place where memorable moments and personal connection are served right alongside the main course.

If effective brand communication is dependent entirely on its relevance to consumer interests and passions, then imbuing your brand with greater meaning becomes paramount in making marketing investments work.

Knowing this, dinner is an important moment and opportunity where need and fulfillment are open territory for brand helpfulness. Also vital to note is the significance that food culture informed strategies play to secure consumer engagement in social channel and content marketing outreach programs.

  • Said another way, it is often the absence of cultural resonance and connectivity that dooms brand communication to the vast pile of ignored messages.

It’s our job here at Emergent to monitor these cultural and consumer-insight conditions so we’re able to respond strategically and creatively for the brands and businesses we represent. If your strategic plan isn’t feeding and exploring these important moments of real-life consumer connection…then you’re potentially skipping the marketing meal that offers the greatest opportunity for engagement and brand growth.

Is it dinnertime yet?

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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.

 

Shop to eat or eat what you shop?

October 3rd, 2017 Posted by consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Digital marketing, food retail strategy, Food Trend, grocery e-commerce, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Shop to eat or eat what you shop?”

Here’s the runway for grocery e-commerce expansion

A more European-like view of food preferences and shopping is sweeping the retail landscape as consumers shop for meals rather than pantry stock-ups: more trips, more often with smaller baskets aimed at mealtime solutions. The implications of this behavior shift on retail business models and  e-commerce strategy is no less than transformational.

Online grocery’s convenience bona fides are already well positioned to capture increased share of stock-up shopping trips, focused primarily on shelf stable packaged foods and beverages.

However, new insight on consumer food shopping behavior raises a challenge and opportunity that if addressed successfully, could fuel exponential online growth. You need look no further than the decision around ‘what’s for dinner’ – which today is often resolved in a quick grocery store trip a mere few hours before sitting down to eat.

Perhaps most immediately pressing on the potential escalation of grocery e-commerce is the relationship between this shop-for-meal trend and fast order, delivery or click-and-collect fulfillment. Success here could leverage a significant pain point of escalating frustration embedded in the brick and mortar food shopping experience.

  • Important to note here, Emergent has studied e-commerce extensively and concluded that consumer trust remains a significant near-in barrier to business growth. Shopping online for fresh food requires consumer belief that e-commerce platforms can be depended upon to select, on the consumer’s behalf, the highest quality fresh perishable items like meat, fish and produce.
  • As this trust issue is resolved and consumer confidence takes hold, fresh and perishable sales in e-commerce will rapidly rise, and with it, the economic models of food retail will change forever.

With e-commerce’s historic advantage in online proficiency, industry watchers have noted: “Amazon’s capital and tech-fueled infrastructure is poised to rapidly expand same-day fill-in shopping of perishable food as trust in the e-commerce portal grows.” Hartman Group Executive, Q3 2017

 

Smaller baskets create grocery store shopping friction and e-commerce opportunity

According to IRI, 64 percent of grocery visits are now quick, focused, rapid-shopping trips for a limited basket (IRI, The Omnichannel, September 2016). Yes, we are witnessing in real time a major behavior change as the distance between buying and consuming collapses.

Traditional food retail was never designed with this kind of meal shopping in mind. Navigating a 60,000 square foot store for five to seven items can become annoying. The smaller the shopping basket, the more egregious and noticeable the time commitment is to travel the store footprint in search of a few items. Younger audiences especially are less tolerant of these time inefficiencies.

  • So what does it mean when pantry shopping gives way to just-in-time menu procurement? It puts in motion the conditions leading to a potential surge in online food shopping growth. Online can take the cart navigation discomfort out of the shopping experience.

There is however another consideration…

E-commerce must align with the consumer’s emotional connection to food

First, trust issues around fresh/perishable selection have to be resolved. If e-commerce is to play a substantive role in helping consumers with their dinner plans, more effort is required to recognize and leverage the real passion and care consumers have around fresh food – unlike any other product category offered online.

Virtually every food e-tailer is positioned in similar ways on convenience claims. Therein lies the next challenge: e-commerce constructed to answer transactional simplicity and convenience must not overlook the consumers’ emotion-rich interests around food.

  • It should be noted that meal kit companies do a much better job in the online environment delivering this kind of information and product backstory via content on ingredient sourcing, food experience and culinary adventure.

So for the most part, the online food environment remains a single instrument playing the song of products, prices and a virtual basket to fill. Unfulfilled as of yet, is the food e-commerce platform offering a complete orchestra and symphony of food story and guidance to home cooks hungering for their next meal adventure.

When e-commerce begins to push past the transactional and into the consumer’s relationship with food, magic could happen as the consumer comes to believe that online food shopping, and a differentiated online banner, offers much more than purchase simplicity.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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.

Emotion and brand strategy

Psst Marketers – Time To Get Intimate

September 21st, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, food experiences 0 comments on “Psst Marketers – Time To Get Intimate”

Considerations As You Enter Planning

Recently on an episode of “Master Chef,” a home-cook contestant became emotional when presenting his dish to rave reviews. With tears welling in his eyes, he shared the backstory…his cultural heritage which influenced the flavors; the technique learned from family struggling to stretch their food dollar; the pride (and frankly, relief) of successfully honoring his family and the ingredients by coalescing all of those experiences into his dish — all on a plate, for others to enjoy — to be shared.

Celebrity chef and judge Aarón Sánchez comforted the 20-something contestant saying knowingly, “Food is very intimate.”

Intimate.

Yes, the sharing of something very personal; meaningful; even emotional.

As food marketers, many of us get sucked into the vortex of textbook “product” features and benefit-selling forgetting, or consciously rebuffing, the most important consumer insight of all. Just like our young Master Chef cook, people care deeply about food.

Understanding this powerful relationship between food and cook has moved beyond the anecdotal. Tapping into our purchasers’ emotions is no longer just one of the tactical options in the Creatives’ bag of tricks. It’s actually a new way of managing your brand and going to market.

Marketing — We’ve Been Doing It Wrong!

Most important for today’s brand managers and marketers is understanding our “consumer targets” are, first and foremost, people: who are feeling creatures that thinknot thinking creatures that feel.

We’ve known tapping into emotion is an important and powerful persuasive force in brand communication. Now we know why — because it connects most readily to the sub-conscious where decision-making occurs in the blink of the eye — and with the deepest conviction of one’s own “gut feeling.”

So, if most decisions and actions are created by the sub-conscious part of the brain and in an instant, why do marketers continue to focus on analytical messaging that assumes people make considered, rational decisions? Any factual product features or benefit will be evaluated — in the end — against how the consumer feels about the brand or product.

After all, “the heart wants what the heart wants.”

It’s All About the Touch-Points

Understanding the dominant role emotion plays in decision making should have a profound impact on how we go to market — especially in the food business, which is intrinsically an emotion-rich category.

The marketing goal is to connect to what your brand and product means to your consumer and how it helps enable in their lives.

Culinary inspiration is often a great place to start because it immediately looks at food through the emotion-based lens of experience: the preparation and enjoyment of eating; and the social dynamics between people sharing time in the kitchen and around the table. For some, food might mean taking pride in being a good moms like our young contestant, honoring tradition by sharing the legacy of time-honored family recipes and techniques.

So, as you step into planning, ask yourself what are the intimate, personal and emotion-rich touchpoints connecting your consumers to your brand.

Here are some important questions to consider in planning:

  1. Do we have insight into the consumer’s passions and concerns around their lifestyle and how the brand and product sits in service of their needs?
  2. How can the brand be an enabler of their lifestyle desires?
  3. What are the emotional links between the consumer’s self-interests and the brand?
  4. How can the brand demonstrate it cares about the same values as our consumers?
  5. How can we tap into the real feelings about the experience taking place around the product?

Understanding these key insights is how we at Emergent develop effective outcomes that are transformational for our clients.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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.

 

Wine and food marriage

Wine and Food – a marketing power couple

September 14th, 2017 Posted by brand marketing, consumer behavior, Culinary inspiration, Food and wine, food experiences, storytelling 0 comments on “Wine and Food – a marketing power couple”

Consumer-centric strategy wins every time…

Wine is a unique business characterized by literally thousands of competing brands all packaged and presented similarly. Where marketing is often built around vineyard and winemaker stories, sprinkled with a dose of influencer reviews from a narrow cadre of respected bloggers, writers and wine-centric publishers. Unlike the beer world where some larger brands can afford to spend heavily on consumer pull, for the most part, wine is a trade push story built around trial in on-premise channels while courting volume sales in the off-premise (liquor stores, supermarkets and specialty).

Brand awareness and equity is just a completely different conversation in the wine category. Here, consumer reviews and experience are likely to be crucial to fueling word-of-mouth. In the super-premium end of the category, mainstream marketing tactics can often hurt more than help by diluting the perception of “discovery,” uniqueness and artistry.

That said the wine business is also rich in storytelling material around terroir, viticulture and oenology. Yet despite the differences in such distinctions as soil condition, microclimates and the styles of winemaking, a pervasive “sameness” exists in the presentation of brands at retail.

In the end, wine leans into a very self-reverential form of communication. We have a saying here at Emergent: the brand that gets closest to the consumer wins. If you work backwards from that premise with wine, it doesn’t take long to see the storytelling value of drawing upon consumer experience and context with these brands.

Most often, that setting is about the marriage of wine and food.

Early in my agency career, I had the honor and privilege of representing Chateau Ste. Michelle winery at the time, a boutique vintner of premium wines in what was an emerging industry in Washington State.

Baptism by wine…

For a home chef like me, working with Chateau Ste. Michelle winery was a dream assignment – an opportunity for an immersive education about wine making from the masters of this unique artisanal industry. Initially, our focus was on telling the Washington Wine Story. The wine-growing region of Washington State roughly parallels the latitude of the winemaking areas in Bordeaux, France – so we worked to draw similarities in climate and soil conditions that would favor the creation of exceptional wines, especially their Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was a form of flag wave in a business preoccupied with Napa Valley notoriety.

Then something extraordinary happened that provided a real-world lesson in consumer relevance driving business outcomes.

Ste. Michelle’s owner, the U.S. Tobacco Company, decided to grace its small winery operation with a unique and unexpected parent-company “gift.” Ste. Michelle was to become one of nine title sponsors of the Statue of Liberty Restoration, an enormous public/private partnership enlisting some of the world’s largest corporations as primary contributors.

The question came in from the management team at Ste. Michelle, what are we to do with the Statue of Liberty Restoration sponsorship among all of these Fortune 100 companies? These are organizations with deep pockets to spend leveraging the connection! How would this be made viable for the wine business? Was there any path that would net a benefit to the winery and come at an affordable cost?

The outcome of a considerable team planning effort was a unique and innovative idea to produce a cookbook based on the immigrant experience and the cuisines they brought to this country from other lands. Wine and food is already married. A culinary approach would be consistent with the brand’s imagery and resonate with the consumer’s experience.

We started to build on the concept – the cookbook could be made available free for a donation to the Statue of Liberty fund. It could be purposed as a store level promotional incentive for wine buyers to take the brand, along with displays promoting the book offer. We could use the book launch as an innovative platform for media outreach.

Chateau Ste. Michelle – “Tastes of Liberty”

To this day, I am still struck by the courage and tenacity of Ste. Michelle’s management team led by then president Allen Shoup and chief winemaker, Bob Betz. The cookbook was to be done first-class in keeping with Ste. Michelle’s premium image – so a commitment was made to coffee table quality. The risks were palpable given the book would be offered free for a $25 donation to the Restoration Fund.

“Tastes of Liberty” literally swam in gorgeous, emotion-generating food photography and began with a very human anthology of the immigrant experience at Ellis Island. While wine pairings were present, every effort was made to assure the book would not be just a brand advertisement. It was to be editorial and faithful to culinary inspiration from cover to cover.

Wine buyers loved the unique idea and execution. They were astounded at the value of the ‘free-with-donation’ offer. Equally so, editorial media were awestruck at the quality of the recipes and the way it was presented. One magazine did a six-page, center-spread story on it. It was a successful venture in many ways and the risks Ste. Michelle took were amply rewarded as the brand secured national distribution.

While a case study example of integrated execution, the light bulb moment here is wine and food’s relevance to people and to their experience with the product. Culinary wasn’t in the background, it was a primary agenda with great care taken to assure the taste experiences matched well with characteristics of each varietal.

Yet today, so many wine brands only nod to food with a recipe tab at their web site. Going deep into culinary unleashes the magic of what happens when consumer experience and brand are aligned.

Yes you can (and should) talk about your soil, your French oak barreling, but taste done within the marriage of wine and food elevates this experience to the dinner table. And to a place consumers respect and recognize emotionally.

In the end, “Tastes of Liberty” was a storybook effort by a team of collaborating players on both agency and client sides. And evidence, once again, of what can happen when imagination, consumer insight and strategy coalesce.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

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.

 

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