Posts tagged "healthy living"

Relevancy drives business growth

Relevancy is Key to Your Brand’s Traction

September 30th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Experience, Emotional relevance, engagement, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Social proof, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Relevancy is Key to Your Brand’s Traction”

Strengthening your cultural connections is vital to sustainable growth

Why does brand relevance matter so greatly to your 2022 business results? Because it is within relevancy’s sphere of influence that consumers discover both their interest in your brand and a reason to buy. You may believe your product stands resolutely on its own merits – formulation and attributes and all. To a degree it certainly does, however your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Powerful external forces are at work driving consumer behaviors and preferences. More than ever, people are influenced by:

  • What is popular
  • What is socially agree-able
  • What is on trend culturally

Where does your brand sit in relationship to popular food culture? Current issues and values pressing on the food industry’s future? Brand relevancy is connected to and associated with current culture cues and the symbolism that surrounds it.

Here is our guide to relevance and connection

Brand relationships continue to look more and more like those of the human variety. You are no longer just selling a product. You are marketing deeper meaning, values and beliefs attached to strong cultural influences. Better connections here help more salient brands rise while others less present in these shifting conditions may experience a corresponding decline in their value proposition.

Is your brand engaging in the world around it?

We are witnessing a profound sea change in the path to purchase as consumers look to brands for trusted sustainability stories and tangible efforts to address heightened awareness of a relationship between food/beverage choices and climate impact. Health, wellness and sustainability are key associations for modern food, beverage and lifestyle culture trends.

Is your brand viewed as a positive influence?

What specific actions, policies, behaviors, standards and commitments is your brand making to be at the forefront of these key issues that now dominate the cultural conversation? Is your brand voice up to date, participating in this discourse with credibility and referencing tangible efforts to meet wellness and sustainability expectations?

Is your brand a contributor to users’ lives?

As stated earlier, brand relationships look a lot these days like interactions we have with the people we care about. Thus, why enlightened marketers understand their future is founded on reciprocity. Brands must make a real effort to help consumers overcome barriers, succeed and grow on their life journeys. How is your brand operating as a coach and guide to help users achieve their passions and desires?

Designing for enhanced relevance

Relevancy is achieved through a creative, appealing mix of attitude, behaviors (actions speak louder than words) and appearance. What’s required here is an innovative reappraisal of your brand identity, visuals, voice, actions and symbolism that should be in sync with the cultural dialogue going on right now.

Your brand is the fabric and tether to deeper meaning that provides consumers with an anchor of belief and emotional resonance. Here’s the mix of ingredients that help you dial in brand relevance.

  • How your brand interacts with popular culture – Your strategic game plan
  • Articulating what your brand stands for – Your values and beliefs
  • Why your brand exists – Defining your brand Higher Purpose
  • Engaging where your users spend their time – Your interactions with their micro-communities of influence

Here are three steps you can take right now to bring this thinking to your strategic plans.

  1. Consumer lifestyle insight

You’re interacting with humans not data points. What do you understand about their lifestyle aspirations, needs, wants and concerns? If sustainability is a cultural imperative now, do you know what areas of sustainability readiness they care about the most? Without a foundation of insight into their lives, it’s nearly impossible to find alignment and relevance with who they are, what they want and what they believe.

2. The customer experience journey

Based on a more granular understanding of your users’ aspirations, how should your brand promise and value proposition best be packaged and delivered to meet those needs? Are you monitoring social channels to assess how they’re interacting with you and engaging in your community? First party data is the best resource for reliable understanding of their behaviors.

3. Creative thinking around your future

Based on deep insights into your consumer base and their unmet needs, what new categories can your brand credibly operate in to help solve more problems and cultivate a deeper, more valuable relationship? What new touchpoints can you activate to engage consumers on their journey? Finally, what new tools can you deploy to deliver on the promises you’ve made?

  • Legacy brands can improve their relevance by refreshing and restaging their brand positioning and building connections to current cultural symbols and aligned business behaviors.
  • New and emerging brands can embed this thinking into their go-to-market strategies and the brand narrative they are building.

Once you understand how status and aspiration are defined by your user base, you can go to work finding connections and building trust. Perhaps the most important sea change in our culture is a move towards how consumption decisions impact the world and community around us. It is no longer just what’s good for me, the decision is now also about what’s good for society and for the future world people want to live in.

Emergent is a trend watching, culture defining organization of brand building experts and communications architects. We can help you dial in relevance and gain traction while leveraging the powerful forces of cultural change that influence what people want. The outcome is traction, engagement, relevance, value and business growth.

Use this link to request a complimentary “culture impact assessment” of your category.

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.

Losing brand relevance when the consumer evolves

Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?

August 3rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Customer Experience, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, food experiences, Food Trend, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Can a brand remain successful while at odds with its users?”

What happens when the consumer moves on and the brand doesn’t.

The pace of change these days is unsettlingly quick. Pandemic-authored forms of disruption have come hard and fast, supplemented by equally measured swings in consumer behavior, priorities and preferences. The world around us is evolving. Needs are changing. Attitudes and interests are getting a makeover. The pace of marketplace shifts is accelerating.

  • We’ve entered an entirely new era of marketing challenges where consumers move more quickly than brands. This creates fractures in relevance and perceived value as businesses remain anchored to a legacy business model or said more simply, “how we’ve always done it.’

When the consumer’s wants and needs move to another location on the relevance chess board and the brand doesn’t move with them, what happens when the business suddenly finds itself at odds with its user base?

Changes now upon us –

  • Modern food culture has gained new levels of sophistication.
  • What food is and where it comes from is headed towards a bioengineered future.
  • Health and wellness needs are now dominant preference considerations.
  • Sustainability concerns have morphed to focus on climate impacts.
  • Shopping patterns and behaviors are now linked to extraordinary experiences.
  • Safety and security are simmering underneath a cauldron of uncertainty.
  • Brand trust deficits compound while also multiplying perceived risks on the path to purchase.

Challenges that result –

  • Your product portfolio hasn’t advanced to match the consumer’s evolving quality definition and expectation.
  • You’re not looking hard enough at innovation driven by climate outcomes and requiring advanced bioengineering.
  • Your products are not fully in sync with health and wellness lifestyle goals.
  • You are still narrowly focused on clean energy as the platform for sustainability solutions.
  • There’s nothing remarkable and entertaining about shopping your store.
  • You haven’t answered the bellwether safety and security issues swaying your users.
  • You haven’t placed trust creation at the core of your strategic marketing plan.

New brands are stepping into the gap

Where there’s a lingering need, others will step in to fulfill it. The world is ripe for entrepreneurs who wish to serve these evolving needs creating a business environment founded on new definitions of what scale is; value propositions that re-write the rule book on average cost of goods; and what people will pay for entirely new and higher standards of quality. Brand narratives are moving to focus on purpose and values while historic brand stories remain tethered to feature/benefit selling.

When people change, if you don’t change with them, you’re in trouble.

This summer I attended a backyard community barbecue where the entire menu was a trip into Korean culinary culture. It was mesmerizingly good, a welcome departure from hot dogs and burgers, and an eyeopener on flavor interplay between sweet (sauce) and sour (kimchi). The novel ingredients were off the charts delicious and created a learning moment.

The lesson: once people have experiences that alter their world order and concept of what’s important, tastes good or matters to their sense of values and beliefs, it’s nearly impossible to go back to the old behavioral patterns.

Food culture refinement is fueling change

You just know expectations on what great food is like are shifting when more sophisticated menus and unique global taste experiences start showing up at the corner neighborhood bar – gastropubs are getting Michelin stars!! We are awash in cooking competitions, chef authored packaged artisanal foods, fancy meal kits, and preoccupation with fresh local food ingredients that require preparation skills.

As people acquire knowledge and experience, perceptions shift. The lowly Brussel sprout, and veggies generally, enjoy a renaissance as cheffy preparations take this mini-cabbage (same species of plant – the brassica oleracea) sulphur bomb to new heights of flavor transformation with cured meat and high temp roasting to caramelize the leafy exterior. Cooking techniques magically alter a one-time musty vegetal eating experience with deeper umami flavors.  

The American palate is maturing alongside growing enthusiasm for more complex and layered food preparations and menus. Are food brands right there with them helping share the future of food, or mired in a legacy infrastructure of ultra-processed preparations that lean too heavily on fat, sugar and sodium to drive their appeal?

While popping open a bag of potato chips is still a common snack time ritual, people making their own chips from scratch isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. Food culture in America is rapidly evolving with raised expectations for tastes, flavor profiles and gustatory adventures.

When food experience is driven by ingredients

The basic legacy concept behind packaged food solutions is convenience, an effort to reduce or remove preparation from the equation. But what happens when millions of consumers get a taste of the very flavor layering techniques that make chefs the culinary superstars that they are? Lockdowns helped push people to their stoves. It’s hard to go back to standard boxed mac and cheese when you’ve enjoyed the outcome of informed cooking mixing a béchamel sauce with aged gouda and lardons to envelop an elbow noodle in indulgent magic.

It’s even harder to dismiss these developments when observing 12-year-old kids on FoodTV’s “Chopped Junior” show whip out a wine reduction sauce for pan roasted halibut in under five minutes? Suddenly an otherwise neutral, bland tasting fish rises to a new position in flavor town at the hands of a tween. Does this not signal a change in how we see food ideas, expectations on preparations, romance around the possibilities of better food experiences?

Ingredients take center stage in menus. Packaged products with reimagined ingredients not slavishly tied to what’s cheapest have this incredible competitive advantage of being able to tell their product creation story proudly. This is happening at a time when that’s exactly the kind of behind-the-curtain tale consumers want to know.

How to disrupt yourself

One sure-fire way to guide innovation, restaging, re-purposing and reimagining what your brand is on earth to accomplish – is putting the consumer at the center of your strategic planning and product development strategies.

  • This is harder to do than it sounds because businesses often reflexively sit in service of their legacy brick and mortar infrastructure, supply chain traditions and sensibilities around average retail pricing.

When the consumer is willing to pay more for demonstrable upgrades in quality, where is that coming from? It is the very knowledge they’ve acquired through elevated food experiences where they learn about the relationship between better ingredients and better taste – and often healthier food outcomes to boot. The added spend equals sufficient added value.

Every food and beverage brand should be led by food culture anthropologists, scanning for the sea changes at a time when shifts are occurring more rapidly. We’ve reached a point where the consumer will inevitably move on while the brand plays catch-up or suffers relevance declines.

  • When values change and the consumer wants unique, customized higher quality food experiences, you don’t want to find yourself at odds where you end up fighting them to stay put. Sure enough, a new brand will hit the radar to answer their call for quality innovation.

If you want to stay ahead of developing trends, be sure to register here for the Emerging Trends Report. If you’d like to discuss how your brand and business might evolve to stay ahead of food culture changes, use this link to say hello and invite 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.

Healthy eating to boost immune system

Pandemic driving shift in food brand value proposition

January 20th, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, engagement, Healthier habits, Healthy lifestyle, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Pandemic, storytelling 0 comments on “Pandemic driving shift in food brand value proposition”

Clarion call to optimize brand positioning and messaging now

Is your brand correctly positioned and messaging aligned to answer the pandemic induced sea change impacting food preferences and purchase decisions? If not, the fortunes of less responsive food businesses will inevitably be challenged in the year ahead.

The numbers tell the story

Root cause driving this condition is our escalating, culture-influencing battle with the pandemic. In the U.S. alone there are currently 24,800,000 cases of COVID 19 infection alongside a staggering 411,000 fatalities. This latter figure exceeds the casualties America endured in all of World War II. According to CNN, another 38,000 American lives were claimed by the pandemic in the first two weeks of 2021 alone. To provide optics on the scale of this, Johns Hopkins University reported 224,000 new domestic cases of COVID 19 in one day – Wednesday, January 13th.

  • With the arrival of approved vaccines will the tide turn soon? Not likely given the enormity of the vaccination challenge: In a Washington Post story on the vaccine rollout, Dr. Peter Hotez, professor of microbiology and molecular virology at Baylor College of Medicine said, “The nation must vaccinate an estimated three-fourths of Americans to interrupt coronavirus transmission and stop the spread. Reaching this target by September 1 will require us to fully immunize about 240 million Americans over the next eight months, or 1 million people every day from now until then.”

A tall order.

Never before have people been confronted so closely, continuously and repeatedly with an unseen and potentially lethal hazard that impacts how we live and behave.

Evolving health and wellness calculus

As cited in the Emerging Trends Report earlier this year, health and wellness concerns were already a priority for most consumers. Now, due to a daily confrontation with a global pandemic, the case for investing in one’s health and wellbeing has acquired significant relevance, gravitas and urgency.

  • This cultural development is reshuffling the deck of what matters as consumers look to take back control over their lives by managing what they buy and ingest with a specific goal in mind: to boost their immune system.

The calculus employed by consumers to determine their brand preferences and purchase decisions is evolving. Their goal to assess how food and beverages stack up in achieving specific health and wellness needs alongside the legacy “does it taste good” attribute.

Three anchors of message priority brands should implement

Consumers are wanting to understand how a product choice serves their health and wellness objectives, beliefs and values. At a granular level they are examining ingredients, sourcing standards and creation techniques looking for evidence of nutritional density and functional health benefits (microbiome).

Messaging and brand storytelling should rally around these important themes:

  1. Perception of quality – now defined as a health and wellness assessment
  2. Relevance – focus on lifestyle utility, values and beliefs (carbon footprint)
  3. Experience – contribution to social Interaction and personal enjoyment

Immunity and safety are the primary concerns. Knowing this is the litmus test now applied to brands that fall into the “matters to me” column, are you confident your brand is correctly positioned with the right messaging strategy to address this compelling need?

Optimal storytelling guidance

Empathy could not be more important here. Reaching out with a human voice is how your brand places itself “in league” with the consumer’s needs and concerns. Your story should place consumers in the role of hero with your brand operating as guide, coach and expert in their wellness journey.

Emergent’s recommended approach to messaging in this environment coalesces around operating in service of the five Ps of brand-to-consumer relationship development.

Purpose – your brand’s higher purpose that transcends the product itself, your deeper meaning

Pride – your ability to generate passion and inspiration around serving the greater good

Partnership – your guidance and coaching to help them succeed and fulfill their goals

Protection – help them feel secure and safe in your standards, behaviors in their best interest

Personalization – tailored to their specific needs based on keen insights about who they are

Health and wellness in support of immunity investment creates an extraordinary opportunity for food and beverage brands to closely align themselves in a relevant way with a powerful motivation consumers care about.

This development began in earnest eight years ago when a large swath of the food buying public associated the quality of what they eat with the quality of their lives, pushing food purchases towards fresh, local and higher quality food choices. This changed the definition of convenience and ushered in the era of farm-to-table and interest in supply chain transparency of packaged food ingredients while consumers worked to elevate and adjust their food choices.

Coincidentally it was this move past taste, price and convenience to health and wellness as drivers of brand growth that informed the foundation of Emergent’s business model among marketing communications agencies. We are purposeful experts in healthy living.

Don’t let this moment pass!

Relevance and trust are critical components now on the path to sustainable business growth. Earning and retaining these key attributes will only happen when your brand is aligned with their interests. The question you must answer: how can we work to improve people’s lives and make a difference during a time of uncertainty and challenge to their wellbeing? 

If a source of fresh ideas on how best to meet this cultural shift head on would be helpful to you, use this link to let us know your open to a get-acquainted 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.

Brand activism is on the rise

Trend Alert: Rapid Rise of Brand Activism

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

Is your brand’s higher purpose dialed in?

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

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

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

The Socialization of Brands

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

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

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

Brands are now expected to be social actors.

“My Wallet is My Vote”

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

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

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

Alignment reaches a new level

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

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

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

The relationship of food to climate change threat

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

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

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

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

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

Brand activism and brand voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People want to buy their food from other people

Pandemic launches disruption of modern supermarket model?

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

Symphony of logistics becomes an orchestra of societal values

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

Strategic shift underway

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

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

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

Two fundamental impacts of COVID 19 on behaviors and attitudes

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

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

Recasting the supermarket business model

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

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

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

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

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

People buying food from people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations on humanizing food retail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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