Posts tagged "shopper insight"

Mining the Marketing Gap: Promises and Expectations Lost

June 11th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, food experiences, Restaurant trends, shopper experience, Social media 0 comments on “Mining the Marketing Gap: Promises and Expectations Lost”

Actions and experience overtake words…

You see the ad on TV for the casual restaurant chain; beautiful food, luscious, mouth-watering dishes redolent in bright colorful hues with freshly-made steam stunts and sizzle sound effects designed to get that mouth watering. You might eat the screen.

We’re confident the chain brand minders see these displays of gastronomic splendor as adoring portraits of what they want consumers to believe. You can almost taste the flowing, cascading drawn butter. But then…there’s the actual experience. You can also see the disappointment train hurtling towards the taste buds at break-neck speed, when in reality the product itself can’t reasonably fulfill the promise envisioned in the marketing.

Over-cooked proteins running along side the previously freezer-burn state of ingredients comes through in chewy textures and dryness that slams head-on into the saucy, just-ripe, fresh product pictorial. Imagery can be artfully arranged on beautiful plates displayed in the advertising. If everyone could just eat the ad, please!

What’s the price of breaking a promise and expectation?

What is presented as hand crafted comes through as factory made, and in that bright shining moment the aura of disenchantment comes home to roost. Yes you can cynically declare, “sure but what did they expect, it’s a chain restaurant after all, not some high-end white tablecloth place.” Even in the silver service trade the same experiences of historic letdown can be had when chefy epicurean food doesn’t ring true and questions arise about who is really behind the kitchen stove.

Just beyond the restaurant service levels, dining room experience, wait times, order accuracy, cleanliness, friendliness and all-around happiness-inducing procedures, lurks the opportunity to either delight or dissatisfy.

Across the continuum of retail experiences from supermarkets to clothing retailers to department stores, boutiques and beyond, everyday there are moments available to wow and surprise or participate in an epic fail. In today’s digital culture, the reality, broad-daylight moments can be relayed to communities of friends or fans in mere seconds -replete with accompanying photography or video to verify the facts.

True experience is key. The validation of assertions in marketing is so incredibly important, we, at Emergent, have built an entire marketing model around trust creation. We call it Validation Marketing. The price of failure to build trust is just too great. Reputation is everything and reality is the truth serum administered daily by measuring the gap between promise, purpose and actual proof.

The decline of marketing effectiveness has often been laid off to the “interruptive” tactics of forcing people to gulp down sales messages. Now that consumers have control over media, the force-feeding is about gone. Persuasion sits on the garbage pile of old-line mass media ploys – a communications dog that just won’t hunt anymore as consumers click to avoid the onslaught.

However we have another aligned explanation: the wink-wink of imagined expectation vs. authenticity served early and often, has constructed a concrete chasm between brands and their users. You cannot underestimate the fallout, the insidious rust and corrosion that’s heaped on brand/consumer relationships when ‘actual results may vary’ stings the hardest. It happens all too often when what someone thought would occur inside the store or product package gives way to the “the little white lie” that was shaped with cinematic story in the marketing.

Transparency reigns supreme

There have been too many trips to disappointment junction. What we now have is a belief breach in the brand relationship. If the product or store experience doesn’t match the marketing is it wrong to go there in the first place? It might be.

Every brand, every business today lives in a glass house. What can be known will be known digitally, quickly and by ever-larger audiences. So the distance between anticipated outcome and actual experiences must be closed. The trophy in the battle for future growth will go to those marketers who understand the significance of this behavior principle. Sweating the details of how everything works to deliver on expectations is required. What you say, especially do and provide must all match up.

How does an organization assure that the truth is told rather than fiction? If the truth about the product is sub-optimal, fix the product – ditto store experience. By the way, the product and experience IS the marketing.

When transparency is embraced as a marketing principle, the move to ‘reveal all’ changes the paradigm of how plans, programs and communications are built. If you are amply proud of your product and store experience because the real encounter and formula is indeed terrific, then pulling the communications curtain open a bit wider becomes more comfortable, do-able.

  • Trust sits at the core of everything in marketing and in business. Having respect for the consumer’s welfare and intelligence should share equal stature in how strategies are created. Employing trusted sources and voices as part of the marketing mix are vital to helping validate what is promised.

This is the price of admission, now, to a brand relationship. It’s a 360-degree approach to marketing and planning that recognizes how all aspects of what a brand or store or restaurant does and how it performs must be factored into the trust equation.

What delivery on the promise looks like:

  • SweetGreen’s promise of devotion to fresh, real produce ingredients is true and lives in the product experience.
  • Starbuck’s assertion as a third-place of social experience is for the most part, a true thing (some recent behavioral missteps a note-able exception).
  • Apple’s promise of intuitive product experience is for the most part, true.
  • Amazon’s delivery of a friction-less e-commerce shopping environment bears truth daily.

For every true there’s many more that routinely blow the tire between what’s promoted and what happens. The organization’s total commitment to optimal quality and experience is required BEFORE communications are designed.

Communications inspired by transparent outreach and allowing consumers inside the tent, will win out over the portraiture that looks great on the surface, but is hiding something else underneath. The really great athletes in virtually every category of competitive sport achieve their fame and fortunes daily by working, sweating, training, trying and performing. They are driven to do so.

Marketing should fully embrace those same operating principles, energy and work ethic. No disguise needed.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge

June 2nd, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Healthy Living, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge”

Wallet wields power and Z-ers are ‘voting’ with it

Alert: in two short years Gen Z will be 40 percent of all U.S. consumers. They arrive in economic primetime with a distinctive and unique point of view: economic power is a tool for social change and improvement.

Dissatisfied with politics and politicians whom they feel can’t be trusted to operate decisively for the greater good, Gen Z-ers see their purchases as influential and an expression of what they want the world around them to believe about their priorities and values.

For brands this means young people expect companies to use their influence and platforms for the greater good, to imbue their brands with greater meaning, and to create pathways for participation in something that’s meaningful.

Voting with their dollars

According to a recent study by DoSomething.org:

  • 76 percent of Gen Z-ers have purchased a brand specifically to support issues the brand stands for (this of course assumes the brand indeed stands for something beyond its product expertise, business results, and to the benefit of people and society).
  • 67 percent have stopped purchasing a brand or would do so, if the company does not operate in alignment with their beliefs and values.
  • 40 percent have used purchase power intentionally to boycott bad company behaviors and policies, or to influence improvements and change.

A more values-driven generation, Z-ers believe what you buy and where you shop or eat is a cultural, and at times political, statement. So it’s no surprise the study discovered 49 percent believe it is vital for a company to have social change initiatives in their mission and planning.

Consumerism and the channel for change

Z-ers see mainstream politics as often out of touch with social and environmental issues they deem important, such as gun control and climate change; and politicians as operating in a cycle of self-interest at the expense of others’ well-being as with DACA, healthcare, justice reform, and some aspects of the current political environment on immigration.

Importantly, this can be attributed to control. Z-ers may feel public policy operates beyond their sphere of influence, but economic power tied to social change issues, is seen as entirely within their realm of accessibility to participate in something that matters.

What’s important to note here is the focus on social change and improvement; a generation of consumers who place priority on helping the world around them, and who expect brands to participate in a meaningful way in this arena with them as a prerequisite to earning and maintaining their business.

Higher Purpose?

What is your brand and company mission beyond the balance-sheet interests? And by the way, this is not just a call for philanthropy. Check writing in service of a cause is not unimportant, but this goes beyond donations to how the company’s core purpose is configured.

For food businesses this can be about addressing issues like sustainable agriculture, improving the quality and health of food generally for people, fair wages for farm workers and fair trade practices, or taking care of those less fortunate through proactive and tangible acts and programs.

  • Of course, given we live in the era of anything that can be known will be known, it is not possible to do this with window-dressing assertions and marketing that’s disconnected from real behaviors. Z-ers can quickly assess if the brand has a soul or not, or how to sort authentic motivation from business as usual.

For this very reason, Emergent has embedded Higher Purpose assessment and evaluation as a core part of our capability – to help clients determine or refine their path to social good and mission that extends beyond product and promotion.

Z-ers see this as integral to the purchases they make. What you stand for and how you behave as a brand are under the cultural microscope. Now more than ever, pocketbook politics is a thing to be factored into plans and programs. It manifests from a core belief system sitting in service of society, people, their growth and welfare, planet earth, the environment and government policy.

If anything at Emergent we see this as refreshing and an evolutionary improvement that helps advance the role business can play beyond rewarding investors. It’s okay now to espouse beliefs, to enact efforts for social change and to put this out front as a measure of what the company believes and values.

The operable point here is the overwhelming desire people have, in all age cohorts, to be a part of something greater than themselves. This principle simply gains more importance among Z-ers who operate with intention in their purchases and active alignment with brands they care about and see as consistent with their values. In saying this, all purchases become a form of symbolic signal.

What flag are you waving?

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

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

Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?

March 15th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, CMO, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, food experiences, food retail strategy, Food service, Food Trend, shopper behavior, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Millennials and Meal Kits: Will Dynamic Duo Shine in Supermarkets?”

Retail kit growth could impact restaurant business…

Recently we learned that Walmart is planning to introduce prepared foods and meal kits to their stores nationally. This action is in response to an increased interest among Millennial shoppers for more convenient and higher quality, fresh ingredient meal solutions.

Given Walmart’s massive size, the impact of this move could create more challenges for an already stressed restaurant marketplace and help trigger other supermarket companies to upgrade their own meal kit strategies, compounding the impact. Technomic reports business has slowed for the last two years at the nation’s top 500 restaurants. At casual chains like Olive Garden and Chili’s, growth went from an average 4.7 percent in 2015 to flat in 2017.

Millennial preference for home cooked meals

According to Port Washington, NY-based NPD Group, 83 percent of Millennial consumers report more cooking at home and fewer restaurant visits, while 63 percent of Millennials say they want to cook more.

Concurrently the supermarket business is in the midst of transformation as Millennial shoppers flipped the script, causing a move away from traditional center store packaged foods, to shopping the perimeter departments for fresh, real food options. The fresh trend is seen as evidence of their preference for home prepared meals. Thus, also helping explain why legacy “big food” brands have seen their market shares decline in key packaged food categories over the last 10 years.

  • At the core of this behavior is a central theme: virtually all generation cohorts – from Boomers to Gen Z – have connected the dots between higher quality, real food experiences and desire for a healthier lifestyle.

The interest in cooking at home is an outgrowth of efforts to assert greater control over ingredient quality, preparations and portion sizes along with the ability to better manage household food spending. At Emergent we see another explanation: the consumer’s love affair with food and culinary inspiration continues. The desire to exercise that creative calling in the kitchen is strong as it fulfills the number one driver for food purchase and consumption: healthy lifestyle. Consumers tacitly believe that home cooked food is healthier.

Boxed food adventures

Perhaps one of the most important, embedded features of meal kits is the ability to experiment with new cuisines and flavors at low risk and with ingredients already portioned and in some cases prepped.

When dinner is now often decided at 5 pm the day of consumption, kits are an enticing just-in–time option to solve the meal need, without having to shop a 50,000 square foot store for five to seven items. It’s a form of high quality culinary convenience that meal kit companies like Albertson’s Plated brand often deliver with a backstory and ethos sitting underneath.

Millennials passed Boomers in 2016 to become the largest domestic audience of shoppers, numbering some 75.4 million topping the Boomer generation’s previous lead of 74.9 million mouths. This generation has grown up with global cuisine; the rise of specialty food markets, locally-sourced ingredients, unique restaurant concepts, and even chef-driven bar food.

It’s telling to note that fully 24 percent of the entire Millennial cohort shopped Whole Foods last year even though the chain has only 430 stores – a remarkable statement about their interest in higher quality food options.

As e-commerce gobbles up more transactions for pantry stock-ups, the food retail business will depend increasingly on its ability to curate unique food experiences and fresh ingredient solutions – and that plays right into the hands of grab-and-go kits. What’s not to like, as kits deliver:

  • Curated don’t-have-to-think-about-it menus
  • More convenient scratch cooking solutions
  • Wholesome, higher quality ingredients
  • Easier and quicker prep time
  • Experimentation vehicle for new cuisines, new techniques and personal customization

Food-enthusiastic supermarket?

The meal kit business is symptomatic of larger changes looming ahead in food retail as e-commerce disintermediates the packaged foods category. As a result, supermarkets will be forced to redefine their models once built around selling those packaged products at volume to fuel the balance sheet.

Emergent believes the future of food retail lies in mining culinary inspiration and food experience. Creating the Disneyland effect of “magic” around food adventure and the consumer’s interests in more innovative and interesting food solutions.

Can the food enthusiastic grocery be far behind? The growth of groceraunt concepts will continue to gain ground as food retailers look to leverage their expanding commissary investments for meals to be consumed on site – yet another customer relationship building opportunity! We anticipate more supermarket jobs for classically-trained chefs as a result.

What’s next for foodservice?

Restaurants are entering a new era of innovation competition to more rapidly evolve menu boards and offerings that reflect the cutting edge shifts in tastes, new ingredients and food culture. Restaurants have always been the tip of the spear in new food trends that then trickle down into other channels in the food industry.

Now more than ever the call to action gains momentum for restaurant companies to explore tastes, preparations and ideas to stay ahead as supermarkets improve their fresh food quality, ingredient standards and Deli menus.

It seems to us that restaurant companies also need to explore further the equity in their own brands to potentially create new signature food products that compete in other channels – much as Dunkin Donuts has done with their superb coffee line and Panera with their soups.

  • Millennials’ enthusiasm for food and healthy lifestyle will continue to push grocers to earn their business by providing the quality, selection, and preparation options they want. Restaurants, while innovating on flavor and cuisine, may need to consider expanded channels as enhanced, food-enthusiastic food retailers vie for share of meal occasions.

This may be the most exciting time ever to be in the food business!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

AMAZON GO OPENS TO PUBLIC; RETAIL TRANSFORMATION BEGINS

January 21st, 2018 Posted by Consumer insight, Culinary lifestyle, food retail strategy, Food Trend, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, retail brand relevance, shopper experience, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “AMAZON GO OPENS TO PUBLIC; RETAIL TRANSFORMATION BEGINS”

Emergent announces retail transformation services

After a year in beta test, Amazon today opens its new high tech retail concept – Amazon Go — to the Seattle public. With it a new era in food retail begins, one that we believe will be transformational on more than one level.

Undoubtedly most of the coming media feeding frenzy will be focused on Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology, and the computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion capability that sits underneath their no-checkout-line innovation. Importantly though, at Emergent we’re watching closely how the store is designed and curated to reflect consumer preferences for higher quality, fresh products for either immediate consumption or at-home meal execution.

Food retail has followed a familiar formula for decades, built around a focus on packaged food and pantry stocking. This has defined the shopping experience for a generation. Amazon Go at 1,800 of retail square feet is more convenience store than grocery. But the entire platform is edited to optimize and leverage shopper interests:

  1. Everything matters — and consumer insight informed merchandise selections are critical to match the consumer’s desire for fresh foods and upgraded snack and meal experiences. Carefully edited choice is a good idea.
  2. An on-premise display kitchen conveys the fresh, culinary inspired fresh preparations people prefer.
  3. An array of four to five rotating meal kits brings grab-and-go to full meal solutions.
  4. Integration of Whole Foods 365 store brand products offers its own, embedded quality cachet to packaged shelves.

Elimination of the check-out immediately removes friction from the shopping experience. So, yes, we believe this leap will be greeted warmly by people who have better things to do than stand in line.

The most important shift from our perspective is the product curation itself. Grocery stores ask the consumer to conform to its business model, to serve its supply chain relationships and its legacy shopping format – which is more about stock-ups in an era when consumers increasingly shop smaller baskets looking for just-in-time fresh ingredient meal solutions.

With Amazon Go we now have a food retail concept that religiously follows what the consumer wants in addition to how they want to shop (more convenience). The future of food retail must be centered on consumer relevance rather than just a mirror of routine retail infrastructure and traditions.

So today Emergent also announces our retail transformation services, intended to help food retail bring the consumer to the center of business and strategic planning. At a time when Amazon once again changes the game to secure a greater share of food shopping, Emergent’s transformation services for food retail address improvements to brand mission and go-to-market strategies.

Why does it matter? As Kevin Coupe wrote in his announcement story in his special edition of Morning News Beat, as Don Quixote’s sidekick Sancho Panza opined, “Whether the stone hits the pitcher, or the pitcher hits the stone, it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.”

Amazon is the stone. You already know who the pitcher is.

We’re here to help.

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

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

 

Shop to eat or eat what you shop?

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

Here’s the runway for grocery e-commerce expansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

There is however another consideration…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine and food marriage

Wine and Food – a marketing power couple

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

Consumer-centric strategy wins every time…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baptism by wine…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chateau Ste. Michelle – “Tastes of Liberty”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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