Posts tagged "insight"

Building the Human Brand

Building a More Human Brand

October 19th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Building a More Human Brand”

Time to banish the old marketing playbook

Remember the good old days of command and control, interruption-style marketing and business development strategies? Consumers were viewed as “targets” to be persuaded through repetition and subtle manipulation of their emotions or pocketbook sensibilities.

Vestiges of this way of thinking remain handcuffed to far too many brands that continue pushing feature, benefit and price messages at consumers in both digital and analog channels. Thus, why engagement is increasingly hard to secure. Consumers have become serial avoiders of self-promotional brand outreach as a result. No one likes to be “sold.”

It’s time to stop, reconsider and move on to build more human-centric brands.

Think for a minute about the people you care about in your life. Your family, friends and colleagues. Those closest to you enjoy a special position of value and affection. You’re concerned about their welfare and wellbeing. You make time for them, cherish them and invest in their progress. In short, you care. You express love in words and deeds. You listen. You help. You support and respect them. Moreover, you don’t see those relationships as merely transactional.

Now think about your business behaviors and how customers are viewed and treated. Is it the same? You say well, we’re in business to sell our products. To be sure, but maybe the goal of share and volume glory follows a different path now. One that is built on a model of reciprocity that looks more and more like the valued relationships we have in real life.

Not ‘data points’, they’re human beings

What are the five things your customers want from you?

  1. Inspiration
  2. Advice
  3. Guidance
  4. Education
  5. Entertainment

We have moved from a product focus to content. Are you optimizing the brand communications arsenal for help over hype? Here are three observations that should be considered in developing human-led brand communication.

Utility over cleverness

This may be the toughest consideration of all when viewed through the lens of ad creative traditions. It has been the province of creatives in the agency game to be focused on translating a key product selling proposition into the artful headline or theme. The theory: engagement is achieved through artistic wordsmithing. An artful turn of phrase or catchy tagline is prized as an achievement on the road to being “intrusive” and therefore noticed in the vast sea of message overload.

Times have changed and while great copy is going to be a key driver of engagement, the character and content of the communication is better served through its usefulness rather than pure cleverness alone. Attention is hard to secure. The path to gaining consumer participation is better aided by providing relevant value. That means the message moves closer to serving the consumer’s role as hero of the brand story, in a narrative that is helpful and educational more than self-promotional. It’s about them not us.

Someone is better than everyone

The definition of sound strategy is making tough choices. When the intent is to be all things to all people, the outcome is mattering to no one. It is better to focus on someone rather than everyone. To do that requires sacrifice. It means you select an audience cohort closest to the center of your most ardent user base. Then zero in on what they want and care about. Prune the rest.

In our own experience this played out to great effect when former client Sargento cheese agreed to focus on a consumer segment called The Food Adventurer. This audience of cheese lovers and heavy users care deeply about the quality of ingredients they use. They love to cook, pay attention to culinary media. They are routinely engaged on topics and content that help advance their skills in the kitchen and culinary creativity. By focusing here, Sargento created an opportunity to matter to an engaged audience of food fans, rather than speaking to everyone  (usually defined as moms with kids) across the expanse of the commodity cheese marketplace.

Make a choice, narrow the focus to those who care and are therefore listening.

Inspirational beats transactional

There is a great temptation to assume if you aren’t hitting hard on the product features and benefits, then you’re not selling effectively. But the world has changed. Gaining attention isn’t a math problem of calculating media channels to frequency of message distribution. If the relationship economy is respected, then you understand that winning permission for a conversation depends on following a different set of rules.

  • Your brand voice is built around empathy and care for the passions, interests and concerns of your best customers. You understand that the role of the brand in this relationship is one of guide and coach. Your goal to help them overcome the barriers to their success and fulfillment.

Your brand becomes a source of encouragement and education. Sargento helps the home cook deliver on their passion for creativity in the kitchen. Boom – now we’re talking. Literally. Now we’re actually communicating rather than monologuing. The brand stops barking at people and begins to engage in their community and lifestyle in a useful, valuable way.

When you speak to those in your orbit that you care about, are you selling to them? Pushing self-serving messages at them? No instead you are genuinely listening and helping.

The enlightened brand building of our era begins with injecting humanity into the marketing plan by making consumers the center of it and deciding to earn a relationship based on valuable-ness.

The last word: “Every brand is now a B-corp” – Ana Andjelic, The Sociology of Business

We are in the midst of another evolutionary shift. Consumers care deeply about your values, mission and actions to address social issues like climate impact and sustainability. They care about the impact their buying decision has on the world around them. They have connected the dots between their purchases and a consequence. They want to identify and act on more sustainable choices.

You can help them do that. But be aware that substance and authenticity matter here. Your own sustainability readiness house needs to be in order before invoking solidarity with consumers on these concerns. Sustainability can’t be a message construct floating independently from policies and standards that address the company’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment. There should be clearly expressed targets and actions steps to mitigate those challenges.

Embracing sustainability is yet another way to put the brand “in league” with consumers on a culture imperative issue they care about and expect brands to be part of the solution.

All of this coalesces around one key point: when brands understand that customer relationships these days operate a lot like the kind we have with people we care about, then you understand how the brand should behave and engage in that setting. More empathy, guidance and coaching than promoting. It’s time for the more human brand.

If this guidance strikes a chord as you look towards strategic planning in the year ahead, then let’s start an informal conversation about your concerns and needs. Use this link and let’s talk.

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.

Brands are badges to be worn

4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth

September 23rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Category Design, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Product design, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth”

Advantages you can plan and design for

Food culture in America has dramatically shifted during the last 10 years. People favor premium quality, higher priced products that address modern dietary needs serving health, wellness and sustainability goals. Better food experiences, fresh ingredients, more sophisticated tastes and the brand sustainability symbolism that goes along with it help complete the mission and taste adventure. This is the preference paradigm where all innovations whether from legacy brand or new player must pay homage on the road to success.

  • Here are four key strategies that hold sway over your ability to succeed, to grow and gain share for food and beverage innovations.

We highlight these four distinctive growth strategies in part because they are passed over all too frequently. Eclipsed by the allure of instant scale, every-new-retail-door-is-a-good-door and ill-advised distribution moves that undercut the very brand value proposition that premium CPG solutions embody. This helps explain the high innovation failure rate or seemingly insurmountable plateaus where new emerging brands stall out, never getting a shot at the high volume homeruns of wider adoption downstream.

Want to assure your brand innovations are successful and not a casualty on the path to pantry and fridge domination? Then read on.

  1. Your product concept is the marketing lynchpin (watch out for the Special Occasion Trap)

Food retailers care about velocity and monitor it relentlessly. Marketers care about scale because velocity and scale together are the flags of a winning concept; thus, why growth nirvana for premium CPG success always begins with strategic product and category design. Your innovation goal is a product that naturally, intuitively fits with frequent if not daily consumption occasions and feeds high repeat purchase behavior. Retailers understand this and look for it.

Products that are intended for niche, episodic occasions are much harder to score scaling victory for the very reason they don’t lend themselves to velocity, high repeat purchase business imperatives. If fancy jams are your jam, be prepared for the embedded difficulties that come with slow turn categories or segments with a narrow, special interest fan base.

2. Public ‘display’ categories add symbolism romance to marketing

Food and beverage purchases these days are largely symbolic. People ‘wear’ their brands as a statement, a flag, a visible demonstration of what they value and what they wish to signal to the world around them about who they are.

You know this so can you plan for it, use it. How can you enable consumers to fly your symbolic brand flag? Does your premium brand innovation lend itself to public display occasions such as barbecues, parties, taken to the office or gym and consumed in a social setting? Brand iconography, symbolism and telegraphing of same can be deployed here to help your users display and vote their beliefs and values. Too often this opportunity gets overlooked.

3. Pack strategies can ignite new occasions

No doubt you’ve heard of price-pack architecture. There is a bit of CPG magic in this strategic growth solution. It helps you lean into new and different occasions while creating higher average retail price points (more cash and flow) with a perceived embedded consumer discount, and more facings (brand billboard) at shelf. Pack architecture projects open the door to migrating your users to new consumption occasions.

Amplify Brands’ Skinny Pop brand rode the pack architecture idea to fame and fortune by creating both smaller bags and larger pack sizes of their pound-able guilt-free popcorn. The move lifted average price points while leveraging new use occasions from school lunches to birthday parties. When you offer new packs the input costs are manageable while adding exponential growth on the income side and serving the usage occasion/velocity rule at the same time.

4. The slightly uncomfortable but immutable rule of upscale zip code distribution

There’s an old but wise saying: fish where the fish are. For premium priced food and beverage innovations the distribution strategy decisions you make will have an enormous impact on your ability to gain traction and scale the business. Where you do business matters especially in the early going.

Premium innovations are home to higher quality ingredients, real food-based formulations.  These brands reflect the lifestyle symbolism embraced by consumer cohorts who in reality control the fortunes and failures of new product fame or flame out.

What do we know: educated, high earning households congregate in upmarket neighborhoods. Trial for premium priced CPG innovations will always be better served in retail doors that exist to serve an upscale shopper base. These folks not only won’t flinch at your higher price point, they are also hunters of new premium innovations. Early trial fuels their social currency of being a word-of mouth warrior.

There was a time when Whole Foods owned the early trial zone for premium CPG innovations, but other banners have caught up in their premium offerings. Now it’s a zip code exercise where your decisions are more about the education levels of the communities you distribute in ahead of other considerations.

The guidance: not every new door is the right retail door. Controlled expansion plus patience are better for building your business rather than taking distribution wherever you can get it. EDLP retailers have a different model and a different shopper base driven more by price point than your quality ingredient, healthy lifestyle bona fides. Walmart is better for mass legacy brands for this reason.

  • Broader distribution and wider geographic expansion make sense when innovations become mainstream and lower income households begin to take them up. Going that route too early can create problems leading to profit-eroding price drops and even delisting if you’re not careful.

There are 40 metro areas in the U.S. where greater than 30% of the adult population has a Bachelor degree or higher. That’s a cohort of more than 65 million adults. Higher income zip codes within those metros are primed for premium CPG introductions. These higher income, higher educated households are tuned-in to the evolutionary changes going on in modern dietary preferences. They are listening to your narrative.

  • In sum, you will grow in geographic areas where large numbers of people attach their lifestyle symbolism to your brand and spread it in their social circles. You should be on shelf in the banners where the shopper population is experientially primed to look for you.

Don’t forget to consider University towns for the same reason. These can be enthusiastic communities for bold, dietary alterations and innovations. Young adults especially are early adopters and influential in making new dietary shifts.

Here is the premium CPG innovation recipe for success assuming the product design fits squarely in the frequent consumption arena.

  • Build visibility, awareness and discoverability in the right stores in the right zip codes.
  • Increase local household penetration.
  • Increase consumption rates among early-in users by adding consumption occasions.

If you have these challenges and strategic questions as you plan your innovations and launch strategies, use this link to start a conversation with us. We can help you create a roadmap to success and the brand narrative well told to go with it. We are new product launch specialists.


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.

Niche community marketing

The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here

August 31st, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Journey Map, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Insight, Social proof, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here”

Internet enables strategic shift to networks of influence

Forever and a day, brand and retail marketing centered on identifying key user targets, parsing user cohorts and unearthing insights to define their respective habits, preferences, passions, interests and behaviors. The goal – to refine brand relevance; make media decisions based on their demographics and psychographics; and craft creative messaging to reach these individuals.

But the world has changed (again) and now the path to consumer engagement must be calculated in the context of how and where people participate in communities that help them filter, read, decide and buy.

More than at any other time in modern marketing, products are more susceptible to trends than individual preferences. What do we now know? People are social creatures. The digital world we all live in enables and caters to their collective passions whether that be health and wellness, cooking creativity, love of wine and spirits, fashionable-ness or nurturing a pet-oriented lifestyle.

Communities form and prosper around shared interests.

The wisdom of a curated community

Neuroscience now helps us understand that behaviors are impacted by trends and popularity in user communities. People see community recognition and acceptance as validation that a product or a TV show must be good because ‘everybody’ is using or watching it. Call it fear of missing out or confidence in community consensus.

  • Old way of thinking: to scale your business go wide, cast a broad net and employ mass media as much as possible.
  • New way of thinking: look for networks of influence and go narrow to micro-communities that cater to niche tastes and shared values.

The Internet has operated as an endless digital enabler of nichemanship. Yet many brands remain wed to strategies focused on individuals and amassing eyeballs more so than immersion into the smaller communities where people participate and ‘belong.’

Questions you should be asking

In which communities do your users belong and participate?

Who are the sources of influence and prominent voices in that network?

What trends and interests are actively supported in the community?

How can you best enable users to contribute to the community?

It’s important to take note of shared tastes and values in these settings and to employ that insight in your messaging and outreach strategies.

What are your customers’ embedded interests? What issues, activities, hobbies do they care about and invest their time? If users have a specific interest area that lights their fire, chances are they belong to a community that focuses on it. People participate in influence networks that inform and feed their passions.

Look for the ‘religion’

Some might agree love of whiskey is a religion. There are beliefs and values associated with distilling traditions, still design, ingredients, casks and aging. There’s unique nomenclature and perceptions of what constitutes a good, better or best product. There are lifestyle associations, groups, communities, events and narrowcast media. There are also expert voices and sources of influence on what matters and new developments in product innovation.

For a brand there is more to be gained by studying the networks of influence than blind devotion to detailed persona descriptions of individual whiskey heavy users. Trends can drive leaps in market share, so it’s important to operate as a disciple in the community, embrace the religion of shared beliefs and identify the influence networks within them.

This concept of category religion can be applied in any number of high-engagement businesses where a fan base of ambassadors and evangelists reside.

The role of experts in outreach

Building credibility and trust are paramount these days. Deployment of subject matter experts, be they credentialed or citizen, matters greatly in verifying trends and authenticating community beliefs. When the brand sees its role as enabler, coach and guide to its users rather than product seller, deploying expert engagement in social channels can feed participation, conversation and sharing.

The foundation: your brand Higher Purpose

It is easier to anchor marketing in communities of shared values and beliefs when the brand ‘soul’ is well developed around a purpose that transcends commerce and self-promotion. If you want people to join your community as believers, then you have to give them something in which to believe.

Sadly more often than not, the brand’s ability to position itself in influence networks and community is diluted by operating in the ’three miles wide and a half inch deep‘ mode of transactional behavior. Purpose imbues your brand with a more meaningful voice and greater resonance because the community sees you are wearing your values like a well-tailored suit. 

Hard work ahead

Identifying and understanding networks of influence requires more study and asking different questions during insight research.  Conversation within these communities based on trends and values will help build brand relevance and value among those who care the most. Those are your best customers who over time will deliver greater volume and profit than the less loyal, less engaged users who come and go on deal.

If you think fresh thinking and guidance on influence strategies would benefit your marketing plans, use this link to start an informal conversation

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

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

Honesty about what's on offer is vital to trust

Nothing is More Important to Brand Trust Than Honesty, Integrity

July 15th, 2021 Posted by brand messaging, Brand trust, Insight, media relations, Navigation, Public Relations, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Nothing is More Important to Brand Trust Than Honesty, Integrity”

Your brand value lives in equal proportion to its transparency

Sadly, we report today that a beloved brand in the meat industry, Belcampo is mired in scandal over a shocking revelation that this paragon of sustainably-raised livestock finds itself caught in a web of deceit now exposed for all to see.

Belcampo was in many respects a beautifully, artfully created story of ethics, values and transparency that promised a better way to raise beef, wrapped in an aura of authenticity and deeper meaning. Emergent, so enamored with the brand virtues we saw unfold, reached out a number of times a few years ago to express our interest in helping build their brand. To no avail, but we retained such deep respect for how the vertical integration of their farm-to-door story was assembled with such skill and emotional resonance.

Now a whistle-bearing employee in Belcampo’s Santa Monica, CA retail store has blown the doors open to reveal in a see-it-with-your-own-eyes Instagram video that Belcampo had been deceiving customers. They were selling beef supplied by general meat counter quality distributors that was not organic, not grass-fed, and importantly not sourced from Belcampo’s ranch near Mt. Shasta. The employee states his apology for having lied to customers for two and a half years so he could keep his job.

Belcampo’s high prices reflects its origin story and so the deception was not only of product quality but overcharging for same. The video, complete with scanning labeled cases in the meat locker was unshakeable in its revelation. The company’s response was an amalgam of middling apology, claims of ignorance, attempts to minimize, and then downplay what is a fracture in the brand reputation.

Belcampo would be well-advised to end the spin and instead lean into 100% transparency no matter how painful that might be.

Honesty and Integrity are Immutable Laws

What do we have in our hands at the end of the day but trust granted by people who believe what brands say, and who endeavor to make decisions on the veracity of the brand’s stated claims. Brand trust has been in decline for decades and it is incidents like this that serve to reinforce the “I told you so” of why consumers find it difficult to accept the assertions of commitment or values proffered by businesses.

When profit and self-interest overtake the priority to operate in service of the customer’s welfare and wellbeing, brand reputations can be squandered. All of the years of story and build on a masterful idea at Belcampo, impugned in a most surgical way by someone looking to end the guilt.

Now is the time to renew our vows, to recalibrate and reconsider the respectfulness we grant to hold consumer relationships dear. All of us, all brands live in glass houses. Anything that can be known, will be known. Thus the immutable laws of how brands operate should be held steadfast even when the P&L is on fire during times of trouble such as the Pandemic.

For commodities like meat or fish or anything else sold fresh, this is especially true. Trust is held by the seller to convey that what is on offer is genuine. Of course, the higher the pedestal on which a brand sits, the steeper the fall should the rules of truthful engagement be violated.

The concept of enforced trust – Blockchain

For years now we’ve been reporting periodically on Blockchain technology as an enormous opportunity for brands to author a new chapter in brand trust, forever changing the path to market from farm to fork.

Blockchain’s great promise is an algorithm-based system that through the use of sensors and monitors and digital ledgers can authenticate every claim made by a brand back to the ranch or soil. It irrevocably marks the details of what a product is, how it is raised or farmed, when it was harvested, what happened during processing and transport – all the way to the store or restaurant.

The beauty of this technology is it cannot be manipulated by people along the path. Instead, it serves as a form of enforced trust that guarantees the truth from beginning to end sale. Imagine what it would be like to tell a story like that. For the retailer or restaurant, you know confidently what happened on the path from farm to back door on handling, temperatures and length of time. If it’s grass fed and grass finished Angus beef, you will know it with certainty.

We hope this technology will someday be widely adopted. As marketers we can see the powerful stories that can be created around it that will change the relationship consumers have with brands. It is inspiring in many ways. If we were advising Belcampo, it would be to get the Blockchain team in as soon as possible.

We can only hope.

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.

Agency services and resources

The Services You Really Need From Your Agency

May 19th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “The Services You Really Need From Your Agency”

The highest and best use of a strategic resource

If you were to boil down comments we get from clients on what they like about our work, why they entrust us with their marketing needs, a recurring theme pops up. They lean in on strategic guidance and informed perspective about how best to grow their brand and business.

Tactics like social, earned, owned and paid media all matter, and we have a proprietary approach to deploying them. However, the nuts and bolts from agency to agency tend to be common. So the real acid test of value falls into an area we describe as expert guidance. Clients are looking for transformational growth and strength from their brand value propositions. Given that objective, it’s understandable why research shows clients’ top priority for services they expect to gain advantage by outsourcing starts with strategic brand guidance.

Increasingly, clients believe if strategy isn’t dialed in correctly, everything that follows in outreach and sales support is a dice roll. So true. The fundamentals of category design, brand differentiation and positioning, brand narrative, persona analysis, key messaging, brand narrative and customer journey mapping all feed the right and most compelling story to tell.

  • Without user relevance there can be no user resonance. More marketing budgets are wasted because the foundational strategies and consumer insights are not properly dialed-in and the effort fails to engage. Just because you’re able to drive media awareness with a generous budget doesn’t guarantee a winning outcome in the market you serve.

Our value almost always starts with insights we’ve honed over years of working in various categories – insights on consumer behavior, preferences and quirks on the path to purchase. It stands to reason if you have deep understanding of what core users care about, then you also have an opportunity to create content that’s meaningful and useful to them.

Brands are no longer sellers. The privilege of a consumer relationship must be earned through enabling consumer lifestyle interests and aspirations, operating as a valued partner on their life journey. When the relationship is restricted to transactional occasions, it casts the value entirely on product outcomes instead of cultivating a deeper bond and meaning. Suddenly, it’s harder to compete on anything except price. That’s due in part to the leveling up in production technologies and supply chain quality making it nearly impossible to maintain over time any kind of meaningful technical superiority.

Your brand is your secret sauce, and its emotional connectivity means everything to the success of your customer relationships and value. When you are hyper focused only in brand technology and processes, you can end up working at cross purposes with who is really running the business – your consumer.

Guidance on higher purpose, deeper meaning

How is it that some brands enjoy a solid foundation of passionate consumer advocacy and ambassadorship that enables the holy grail of marketing – word of mouth and social proof? Those brand minders know the business must invoke a higher purpose that transcends the product itself. People want something important to believe in.

Having a fantastic product experience is now table stakes. Competitive advantage lies in how brands align themselves with the beliefs, values and lifestyle interests their core users hold dear. Thus, higher purpose isn’t a nice to do, it is indeed mission critical.

Emergent started exploring higher purpose strategy years ago and we’ve become experts in how this strategic platform is best developed for client brands through our unique Brand Sustainability Analysis process. A stronger brand and inspired community of users results from having more to offer than simply a product inside a package. Want to be more meaningful to consumers? Then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.

This work comprises the core value proposition we bring to client marketing planning, ahead of the creative work to build compelling, powerful and emotionally resonant brand stories. This is all informed by a brand voice having more going for it than ad-centric cleverness in talking up features and benefits.

Given formulations, recipes, ingredient strategies are ultimately not all that wildly different brand to brand, if the brand voice is focused solely on product attributes, it inadvertently feeds sameness and commoditization in the category. The Beyond and Impossible burger formulations bare similarity as plant-based meat so the story instead is about taste indulgence and sustainability bona fides.

A touch for emotional storytelling

Words matter. Emotion sits at the front door of engagement for the very reason people are feeling creatures who think, not thinking creatures who feel. Emotion is a key driver of actions taken by consumers on the path to purchase because the non-linear, sub-conscious side of the brain is operating the levers of behavior.

  • Knowing this, we build message maps with emotive words and stories that play to feelings more than facts. It is the feeling consumers have in the presence of your brand that tips them to purchase rather than analytical, logic-based arguments.

Imagine the pet food company that shares the emotional stories of pet transformation – pet lives that have been impacted and improved through the higher quality food they are ingesting. Compare that pound for pound with fact-based messaging on protein percentages or nutritional specsmanship and the impact on real engagement becomes crystal clear. Emotion wins every time.

Working to amplify symbolism and signaling

Purchases these days are largely symbolic flags of what consumers want the outside world to believe about them and what they care about. The symbols you are using on packaging, in your advertising and content become the visual shorthand consumers are looking for based on what they believe is important. For example:

  • Sustainability
  • Dietary outcomes like weight management and energy
  • Health and wellness

People are visual creatures so use of visual symbolism on package, at the store shelf, in the web site are triggers that offer a form of signaling the consumer holds onto that aligns with their desires and preferences. Mapping a symbolism platform should be part of your marketing partner’s scope of work.

Brand experiences

Actions speak louder than words and for that reason, brand experiences become a significantly important tool in bringing the brand closer to users.

  • Culinary events, for example, allow people to get hands on with their passion for creativity, taste experiences and indulgences.
  • Health, wellness and fitness events amplify the interest in taking better care of one’s self and investing in self-improvement.
  • Music is incredibly powerful for a brand association in moments of deep emotional connection.
  • Educational events that provide useful lifestyle guidance or remove perceived risk through sampling lead to brand bonding moments.

To the extent brands have an opportunity to act as consumer coach and guide, it puts the brand in the right role of advisor rather than brand storytelling hero – the position rightfully owned by the consumer. The brand is Yoda to your user Luke Skywalker.

Trust creation and risk removal

Consumer purchase behaviors are 99.99999 percent of the time informed by their overwhelming need to avoid making a bad decision. No matter what you say, consumers will stay away if they perceive risk is at stake in a purchase.

Risk avoidance is a strong barrier to trial. Removing risk involves the following:

  • Using the voices of outside credible experts to validate what you want people to believe.
  • Bringing the powerful verification of real people testimonials in social channel posting.
  • Familiarity bolsters trust, so awareness building is part of this process.
  • Consistency in your behaviors and policies that place the customer first – they need to believe you are always acting in their best interests.
  • Honesty is partially a voice and language effort but must be informed by a willingness to own mistakes – this is hard to do but it humanizes the brand.

Trust strategy should be an integral and fundamental component of strategic planning.

This eco-system of services, resources and programs comprises the highest and best use of your agency partnership. It might seem odd not to include excellence in communications tactics such as earned and social media. But for the most part agencies with a strong track record should excel in varying degrees with these fundamental practice areas. The work profiled above, however, is what separates the average from the exceptional and deploys the most powerful tools available to build brand value and consumer engagement.

If you are currently looking for fresh ideas and perspective for your business, use this link to open an informal conversation about your needs.

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.

Storytelling can change history, alter the path for brand growth

The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome

January 22nd, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Insight, Public Relations, storytelling, Validation 0 comments on “The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome”

When Real, Powerful Human Stories Must be Told

It’s in the story telling and the strategic nuances of where and how they’re told that great things happen. Over time I have come to see and appreciate these tools that work to greatest effect and benefit in altering the future trajectory of client businesses.

There’s one story that stands out above others. The strategic principles bound up in this example have proven effective time and time again. It recurs often enough to have earned first place in the strategic arsenal as a reliable go-to for business progress. It’s the stories well-told by real people about how their lives have been impacted by our clients’ products.

An unforgettable day, a powerful moment, a sea-change that saved lives

A while back I owned an agency called Wheatley Blair. We were retained by home safety products company First Alert to launch the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm, a warning device for a household hazard that is unseen, dangerous and invisible to any human. It was the leading cause of accidental poisoning fatalities in America, claiming more than 1,500 lives every year and countless thousands more who were sickened or injured.

In our efforts to build a platform for launch we felt it was important to create a constituency of ambassadors including families who had lived through poisoning events or lost loved ones. Alongside them we built an advocate team of poison physicians who understood the threat, air quality experts who could explain how the gas is released and builds up in a home, and the fire service community of emergency first responders. We initiated a collaboration with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency charged with evaluating and monitoring new safety solutions.

Our campaign to alert American families gained traction as major news media broadcast our story of the “Silent Killer.” Word spread rapidly about this household hazard produced by combustion appliances like furnaces, ovens, hot water heaters and fireplaces. People lined up outside at hardware and homecenter stores to buy the alarms.

What we didn’t expect at the beginning was a foe to quickly emerge

The American Gas Association stormed out of the wings taking aim at our client because they felt the issue disparaged their product. Frankly while I understood their concern, it made no sense to me because the threat isn’t the fuel, it’s malfunctioning combustion appliances, exhaust systems and chimneys. But never mind, the industry came out swinging suggesting we were creating unnecessary alarm.

A David vs Goliath story if there ever was one

The natural gas industry is gigantic. They had more money to throw at this issue than our client had in total sales company wide. We were David to a well-financed Goliath. Naturally when this challenge emerged, we made a beeline for the Gas Association head offices looking to enlist them as collaborators in the effort to save lives and protect families. We thought, “Who wouldn’t sign on for that kind of life safety effort?”

  • Walking into the lion’s den, we made an appearance in their executive conference room attempting to persuade them that this was a golden opportunity for the industry to join in a lifesaving education activity.  This would endear them to families while associating their “brand” and product with a public safety initiative.

Unfortunately, they saw the issue as a threat and instead kicked off an effort to try and derail the carbon monoxide education campaign. When you’re working on the side of the angels it is unlikely that even a well-financed effort to discredit and downplay will work.

It came to its pinnacle at an industrywide conference held in Washington DC. It was their effort to rally the regional gas company members around a call to resist the carbon monoxide alarm education efforts and counter with their own claim that this was much ado about nothing.

  • But the handlers inadvertently made a strategic error. To create a perception of due diligence, they invited the Consumer Product Safety Commission to join and be part of the speaker line up. By law if the CPSC is involved in a meeting, it becomes a public event which anyone is free to attend.

Initially we offered to provide speakers and expert content but were denied. We decided to meet the challenge head-on by attending the meeting uninvited. Our strategy: to bring 10 families who had experienced a carbon monoxide disaster of their own to come and tell their stories at the conference. During question-and-answer sessions in the meeting agenda, they would come to the microphone and share their story while challenging the industry to help save lives.

  • One by one families in the audience stood up and told their stories, some of them heart rending of how loved ones were lost. Poison physicians explained how the gas impacts the human body causing people to suffocate from the inside out. Air quality experts detailed how an appliance can malfunction to emit this highly toxic material.

In the hallway outside the ballroom, I observed. My heart was racing as the testimonials unfolded in hostile territory. You could hear a pin drop as the families shared their unscripted, real, personal experiences. Meantime, the chief conference organizer was furious at our team for this move to confront the industry, and threatened to throw us out of the building. I calmly explained that CPSC rules and law require that these families be given entry to what was now a public meeting. If they did throw us out, we would invite national TV news crews to the parking lot to interview the families about being denied access.

He quickly backed down.

The meeting went on.

Then, the sea change occurred.

I witnessed the tide turn before my eyes as gas company CEOs came to the lectern to say they were personally touched by and impressed with what they heard. By the end of the meeting the industry moved to begin educating people about the threat rather than resisting it. Many eventually became sellers of carbon monoxide alarms themselves.

Why did this work so powerfully?

Real people telling honest stories with passion and pathos impacts the heart as much as the head. It is immediately trustworthy in a communications environment often filled with dubious claims and assertions that may or may not hold up under scrutiny.

Negative claims had no power in the face of real personal story. It was overwhelming and in the moment the chasm was bridged, the path permanently altered, and the world changed.

You can do this, too.

I enjoy what I do. Marketing and communication is my life calling. The business has rewarded me with an outlet for my creative bent, a curiously accurate business sense and ability to see the big picture of how client organizations can move to take the next leap in their development and growth.

So it’s really an avocation as much as a vocation. That said, I learned a ton from the First Alert assignment – about the power of stories to alter the course of history and events. What’s more I’ve seen this outcome repeat over and over. When people share their personal stories of change, renewal, improvement and growth, big things can happen and business leaps abound.

  • The devil is in the details of how this is executed. Want people to join your brand as advocates and evangelists? Give them a voice, move those stories out and let their experiences verify what you want people to know and believe about your products and brand.

The outcomes can be life changing. In First Alert’s case, it created a successful new category that propelled the company to a higher level of significance and value with consumers and trade customers, plus $250 million in added business within 15 months of launch. The Walmart buyer called carbon monoxide alarms the Cabbage Patch doll of the hardware department. We called it a significant achievement in the goal to save lives. A win and win.

  • These moments in life and marketing signify the places where we make a difference. Don’t you want to be a part of this kind of game-changing influence?

Let us know if you would be interested in unearthing marketplace impact and influence relevant to your brand and category. Together we can find a path to sustainable growth and business development.

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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