Posts tagged "storytelling"

Simple, clear, concise communication needed in pet care business

The re-graining of the pet food business

February 12th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “The re-graining of the pet food business”

Will shift feed further confusion?

If anyone has any questions about the power of editorial (earned) media to impact consumer behavior and swing marketplaces, look no further than the DCM crisis of 2019 and the FDA’s announcement stumble.

The FDA publicly announced an investigation into an asserted link between certain grain-free diets and the onset of a heart condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. They included brand names of pet foods fed to some dogs included in the study. Irrespective of the merits of the investigation, whether or not a tangible connection exists to dietary formulas, the assertion of DCM (allegedly instigated by grain free foods) sent shockwaves through the industry.

Consumer uncertainty quickly followed. Most brands made a concerted effort to investigate, analyze and educate users. At the same time, a number of industry players who had previously embraced the grain-free juggernaut that has defined category growth outcomes for nearly a decade, quickly formulated alternative diets that use ancient grains, wholesome grains or a version of this. The objective was to answer any pet parent who is worried and wanting to make a switch – and keep them in the brand family.

Like anything, when a business launches new products, efforts are made to distribute it, gain shelf placement and promote to buyers. This momentum generates a self-fulfilling prophecy by helping bifurcate the premium market and throw a cooling trend on the sales heat that has followed grain-free pet food for a long time.

On-set of grain-free march to fame

The real momentum driver of the grain-free phenomenon can be traced back to the Menu Foods crisis of 2007 as hundreds of pets perished when tainted melamine ingredients from China showed up in US pet food. The fracturing of the industry, however, really resulted from a revelation that one company, Menu Foods, was manufacturing more than 100 brands of pet food. This stunning surprise to the consumer marketplace reversed decades of brand building that implied pet brands themselves were carefully preparing unique food solutions in their own kitchen, while also refocusing pet parents on examining what’s really inside that bag of kibble.

Smaller boutique brands that had quietly made higher quality, more protein forward foods jumped into the spotlight and web sites sprang up right and left to weigh in on recipes, ingredients and a redefined view of what constitutes a healthy, quality pet food. The emergence of ancestral diet that connected wolves to dogs and what animals would eat in their natural habitat, fed the grain-free segment headline as use of corn and related low-cost ingredients was vilified.

Marketplace confusion

Universally, human beings have an unassailable quirk – they refuse to tax their brains when confronted with complicated or confusing messaging. People quickly opt out and refuse to engage if the story is too dense or requires a PhD in nutrition science to understand what’s going on.

The merits of grain-free food have been a foundational aspect of pet food communication for years. As is always the case, the story generally attempts to elevate grain-free solutions at the expense of grain-based diets that had been a hallmark of the pet food industry historically.

The march to protein specsmanship was on after 2007 and the pet food business category posted year to year volume and share gains for brands that removed grains while adding protein. The story of meat-based diets made intuitive sense to people if you buy the wolf connection and that dogs and cats are essentially carnivores.

Now grain-based solutions begin to come back as a response to the FDA moves on DCM, opening another industry chapter, while at the same time creating a potential stew for communication disconnects. The finer points to grain or not to grain aside, while this appears on the surface to simply be offering choice, another gambit opens when these two formulations compete for attention and potentially contribute to confusion on the merits of both.

The antidote to pet food marketing confusion

Simple. Clear. Short. Concise messaging will be necessary to navigate the re-graining of pet food. No taxing of brains allowed. If the pet diet is primarily protein based, and the source of those proteins are from animal, poultry and fish, then the role of grains or legumes isn’t a mission critical part of the nutritional delivery story.

That aside, this emerging condition offers pet brands an exciting opportunity to enhance engagement and relevance. The love pet parents have for their pet is an important area to mine for communication that resonates — without adding to confusion on the grain and re-grain debate. The human/animal bond steps outside the protein percentage messaging wars to provide a rich arena for relevant brand-to-consumer conversations.

Transparency in the supply chain is yet another pathway into the product quality story that doesn’t require stepping on the jargon landmines of formulation detail and nuance. Trust and belief are paramount and best served when consumers can see the openness and honesty manifest in how the brand behaves and what it communicates about product creation.

In sum, clarity and emotion are two fundamental anchors for pet food brand communication that can help steer wide of the potential confusion of grains vs. no grains.

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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.

What defines fearless, swing-for-the-fences marketing?

February 11th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Marketing Strategy 0 comments on “What defines fearless, swing-for-the-fences marketing?”

The recipe for transcendent business growth

What do marketers want to achieve?

  • Sky-rocketing sales
  • A growing legion of enthusiastic brand fans
  • Advancing market share
  • A profitable balance sheet

But what about:

  • Making a difference in customers’ lives
  • Recognition as a brand with a soul, standards and a higher purpose

What stands in the way of achieving these goals? Of course, consumers have to join you fully on the journey. However more often than not, what that journey is, how it’s assembled and executed, plays a significant role in calculating the anticipated outcomes.

The path to marketing success begins with redefining the task at hand and how the consumer can participate. It doesn’t start and end with selling product features and benefits. Rather, it begins with fundamental recognition that human beings are on a life-long hunt for resolution to their external, internal and philosophical problems.

In truth people are not actually buying products; they are attempting to become better versions of themselves.

Swing-for-the-fence marketing is on a mission to create transcendence, recognizing customers are ultimately looking to be:

Wiser

More respected

More valued

Better equipped

Healthier and more physically fit

More accepted and loved

More at peace

Happier and more fulfilled

Summarizing fearless marketing behaviors

Successful brands look beyond the basic functionality, utility and value proposition of the product, to envision how the brand can inspire and improve the customer’s life.

This means defining an aspirational, human quality which resonates with consumers. And further, considering how the brand can help their customers achieve those aspirations.

The best brand building answers the following important questions:

Who does our customer want to become?

What kind of person do they want to be?

What does their aspirational identity look like?

How can we help inspire and enable their goals?

When you reach for a higher purpose and deeper brand meaning, the foundation is set for the kind of marketing that inspires people. They want to be part of something that’s greater than themselves. For brands, the irony of being centered on the customer rather than the brand, is the very thing needed to facilitate what businesses want to achieve – consistent year-on-year growth that provides the grist for a healthy balance sheet. This occurs because your consumer truly opts in, becomes emotionally invested in the brand, and decides to participate.

The marketing fearlessness resides in the intentional vision to go beyond tried and true marketing approaches – to recast what the business is trying to accomplish by redefining its purpose and mission.

This strategic approach puts the brand in league with the consumer and celebrates them as the hero of the storytelling, with the brand operating as the expert guide.

What does this look like in practice?

It’s…

  • The food company that works to inspire home cooks and help them on their creative culinary journey
  • The beverage business that recognizes the consumers longing for improved health and wellbeing
  • The pet food company that fully embraces the emotional relationship and connectivity between the pet parent and pet
  • The technology brand that sees the consumer’s passion for human connection and creative expression
  • The car company that enables the drivers’ quest for adventure and exploration

The opportunities are there when you look past the product and into the aspirations and desires of those you seek to serve.

What adventure can you enable?

What passion can you feed?

This is the right conversation to have at the center of your communications planning and marketing program development.

We can help you navigate this exploration.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should a brand be more human?

January 28th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “Should a brand be more human?”

Flipping the paradigm of how great marketing operates

Businesses want to win in the marketplace, to serve their mission effectively and to attract more consumers to a hopefully growing community of fans. More often than not, considering the exhausting and thorough efforts made to create outstanding products, most brands absolutely deserve to win.

But ‘deserve’ and ‘win’ (and degrees of same) don’t follow any linear rules of cause and effect.

One thing stands in the way of brand success. It is a condition we see repeated over and over again; a common problem that subtly works to wedge distance between consumers and a brand’s marketing efforts.

It is entirely unintentional but occurs nonetheless all-too frequently because of an inconspicuous trap. All of the efforts made to create great products draw marketers to conclude the focus of their communication outreach is, and should be, about themselves, the brand and its superior features.

The villain in this unfolding story of marketing misfires is a form of self-interest driven promotion. Basking in its own well-deserved reflection, the brand casts itself as the hero and the focus of its storytelling, unaware that in doing so they’ve already lost the consumer.

  • Every human being wakes up every day believing THEY are the hero in their own life story. Consumers are not drawn to brands that present themselves as the hero and in effect compete with them for that role. Instead consumers continue on their journey looking for a guide to help solve the challenges and problems they endure.

For years Emergent has toiled in the messaging fields, writing, deploying, researching, questioning and evaluating various approaches to building better brand communication and content. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. We understand the impacts of cultural shifts on how consumers will or won’t engage with brands.

CEOs and CMOs wrestle with confidence over the outcomes and effectiveness of marketing investments, looking for reassurance the brand is indeed engaging its audience fully. This occurs at a time when consumers have become masters of successfully avoiding anything that looks like overt marketing. We understand this frustration and share the concern that effectiveness is the bottom line.

Out of genuine respect for what we’ve been able to discern about people – how they think, function and make decisions – we have arrived at a formula that offers a consistent frame for messaging that will engage and involve consumers in the story clients should tell.

The more human brand wins

Consumers have become experts at recognizing content intended to convince and persuade even when it’s well disguised to look like independent and unbiased advice. What people want are honest relationships, built on a foundation of truth, trust and reciprocity. This can best be described as injecting favorable human qualities and voice into the marketing communication strategy. The goal to become meaningful to consumers you wish to serve.

  • What people genuinely need is help. Brands that operate as a guide and enabler of the lifestyle goals customers pursue, have an extraordinary opportunity to bypass consumer optout and gain their valuable ears.

If the brand can put the consumer ahead of its transactional goals and work intentionally to help improve their lives and the world around them, it changes the calculus. A new environment is created where consumers open themselves up to really consider the brand, engage in conversation and invest in a new relationship . …just like one would have when making a new friend in the real world.

Unpacking humanity

In human relationships, when we examine what drives great marriages, friendships and parenting, we find recurring themes of empathy, honesty, selflessness and a unique ability to be a terrific listener. So, we ask is the brand user relationship really best served when operating strictly on a seller-to-buyer basis?

Are customers only walking wallets? Is the goal only to sell and service while exacting the appropriate margin to reward investors? If this is the operating philosophy, does it cloud the marketing strategy with a reflexive tendency to favor self-promotion? Probably.

When brands acquire a view that consumers are individuals to be respected, valued and served what happens? We become obsessed with discovering the problems and challenges consumers encounter. We strive to find ways to make a difference and, in doing so, to become useful – brand as a resource not just a product source.

When the brand voice is human, conversational, less about selling and persuading and more about helping as an expert guide, we fulfill the single most important insight to improved brand engagement: the consumer is now the hero of our story and the brand is the guide.

The key operating elements of this approach are:

  • Insight to consumer lifestyle wants, needs and challenges
  • The near-term goal to determine the lifestyle ’why‘ of their repeat purchase
  • The consumer, not the brand, is always the hero of the story
  • The brand’s role is guide and expert along the path
  • Articulate the problem the consumer is trying to solve and show empathy for their concerns
  • The brand offers a plan and solution, while lighting the path to an improved life
  • A higher purpose is an integral part of this engagement approach

When we strike a human tone and simplify the message in the right context (with brand as guide) we open the door to consistent performance in marketing outreach. Yes, the words matter so it’s important to do the homework before building a messaging platform.

Importantly however, how the organization sees the customer relationship and how it casts its mission will weigh heavily on a successful outcome.

Higher purpose discovery

To that end, defining a higher purpose can be an incredibly powerful route to optimizing the entire marketing and business behavior proposition. For this reason, Emergent created a process called Brand Sustainability Analysis to frame how purpose discovery is undertaken, to make sure the purpose syncs with company DNA and culture.

We can help unlock the power of higher purpose to reset the customer relationship and influence the growth trajectory of your business.

Tell me more about higher purpose and building a brand with more humanity.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you confuse, you lose!

January 23rd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling 0 comments on “When you confuse, you lose!”

Brand messaging clarity drives effectiveness

What’s the one thing we know about humans that must be factored into the creation of effective brand messaging? People refuse to tax their brains. You lose the audience with complicated messaging which involves too many elements to digest or is too indirect.

One of the most iconic fast food ad campaigns of all time was Wendy’s, ”Where’s the Beef?” The series mocked rival chains on the size of their burgers while setting up Wendy’s as the more generous option. The message was simple, memorable and unmistakable. It was a classic move that helped advance the Wendy’s brand in a highly competitive quick service restaurant race for share of mind and stomach.

Importantly, the Wendy’s messaging was simple and direct. It didn’t strain the viewer’s brain to understand the point. Clarity was delivered in such a simple, entertaining and memorable way that the ‘Where’s the Beef?’ query went the 1980’s-version of viral and became synonymous in our lexicon for anything disappointing or lacking substance.

More often than not, brand communication suffers from complexity. Errantly, marketers believe the persuasive argument is made more convincing with point after point. So, in an effort to prove superiority, a veritable stream of benefits gets ladled into the messaging platform.

In truth, the added verbiage becomes noise for that very reason. The audience is now required to drill down and sift through multiple pieces of information. Instead of engaging, consumers shut down and run for the exit.

Simple, clear, focused

We encounter this condition all too frequently. In the era of emerging food brands with elevated ingredients and better for you recipes the laundry list of copy points is an assault on the consumer’s attention span. In many cases we find the packaging from these nascent players is a firestorm of claims, founder stories and certifications. In effect, the consumer is challenged to study all of this to determine the point that’s relevant to them. Truth is, consumers are making decisions at the shelf in a second or two and may miss the “third bullet” that might resonate with them.

Meanwhile, on the business side, retailers are closely watching velocity performance for new brands to see if repeat purchase is on the upswing. Ironically the path to managing velocity begins with insight into what heavy users (frequent re-purchasers) believe they’re getting from the product – the ’why‘ of their continued buying behavior.

  • This is a key message that should be the focus on packaging and any form of outbound communications or social strategy.

When we understand the ‘why,’ messaging can be simplified and focused, and thus an opening is provided to clean up the packaging and hone the marketing message.

Why does this matter so much to outcomes? Assuming the product already delivers on its eating experience promise, when the message is clear we achieve consumer engagement and memorability, the two decisive components of managing velocity performance.

This approach is respectful of what we know about the human predisposition to avoid taxing the brain. For example, if we determine that the best customers for a meat-based protein snack like a reformulated higher quality jerky are looking for a clean energy boost, then we know where to take the message.

What about clever?

Creative writers like to bring some artistry to the communication with the goal of being entertaining or as it’s often claimed, not boring. Again, if clever makes the message too indirect or vague, the audience will not engage. If clever and clarity can co-exist then it will work, but the acid test is always simple trumps complicated.

Words matter

I’ve been writing copy for a long time so I can tell you this is harder than it looks. A website can be pretty and visually stunning, but if the words used aren’t direct about the product promise and the ‘why,’ it won’t matter.

We agonize over word choices here at Emergent for this very reason. This is why insight research is such an important component in building the messaging platform. The more we know about the consumer’s ‘why’ –  the better the messaging will be.

Alignment is a potential pothole

Today’s skeptical consumer is less trusting and less likely to accept a brand’s assertions and promises at face value. This means that actions and behaviors by the company must align with the messaging promises being made. You have to walk like you talk. Deploying trusted voices of outside experts and real people to confirm what you convey is key to making this stick.

When the messaging is relevant and the point we wish to make is simple and clear, the consumer listens because they have found themselves in the story.

Where to go from here

Messaging should be examined through the consumer’s eyes rather than reflexively pulling from a self-promotion playbook.

We can help you optimize your messaging strategy for effectiveness and impact.

Here’s our three-step approach to messaging:

  1. Evaluate current messaging in the context of category competition
  2. Investigate the heavy user audience ’why‘ for purchase, and the critical problem you solve
  3. Apply this understanding to our messaging model that makes the consumer the hero of the story and the brand the guide

Rather than continue to experiment or wonder if the investments you’re making will secure customer engagement, let’s discuss your business priorities and messaging needs.

Said simply,Let’s talk!

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.

 

 

 

 

Your top marketing priority for 2020: Retool and Refine the Message

January 16th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, change, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, Insight, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Your top marketing priority for 2020: Retool and Refine the Message”

If the message doesn’t connect, nothing works

The most important tool impacting the success of food and beverage marketing investments is the right message. If the message lacks relevance and resonance, it won’t connect – and efforts made to engage consumers fall flat no matter which channels of outreach are used.

How so? There’s an interesting example in the difference between music and noise.

  • When I was in high school and college, I was a musician and my side hustle was playing in a band. I was the lead singer and rhythm guitar player. I. Loved. Music. At the time it was my creative outlet, and in every venue we played, there was always a set where I got on stage alone with an acoustic guitar and did some solo numbers. In those moments it was me and the audience and I was singing a story. I had something to say. I wanted them to feel my emotions and relate to the lyrics. Music is an incredible medium for that purpose. It hits the head and the heart at the same moment. It can be inspiring and all encompassing. People are engaged and take the journey with you.

Technically, there’s not a ton of difference between noise and music, both are sound wave patterns. One engages and the other repels. Self-promotional marketing messaging can be static that people choose to avoid. Relevant story telling that connects to what you want in life is captivating.

“If you talked to people the way advertising talks to people, they’d punch you in the face.”   Hugh Macleod

The goal of great marketing is first to engage and then secure belief. That happens when the message is relevant and the storytelling is respectful of what the audience desires. Only then will they really listen.

Where brand messaging goes off the rails

Companies spend countless hours and resources making a terrific product. So, it’s understandable to think the marketing should be a comprehensive showcase of the technical or formulation achievements and product features. The messaging often employs language that walks and talks like fact-based selling because, after all, presumably that’s what is going on: working to convince, persuade and close the sale.

“We believe the consumer will be enamored and enthralled with our better mousetrap and will cling to every word about how we’re 25% better than brand X alongside our painstaking attention to higher quality ingredients. Just examine the enticing list of our superior features and benefits. Afterall everyone will be persuaded by the evidence, given people are logical decision makers who carefully weigh the facts before buying.” Ahem.

Well no. People are emotional creatures who move with their hearts first. How we feel in the presence of a brand is far more important than the specs of protein percentages. But more importantly, the disconnect happens earlier when the story starts with the brand as hero and not the consumer. We’ve already lost relevance at the front door of engagement. We characterize this as a form of brand narcissism.

Best practices in effective messaging

Creating a more consumer-centric brand narrative is harder to do than it looks. Cleverness isn’t the leverage point either. Clarity and connection are paramount. We must be careful not to make people work too hard to understand. Humans resist taxing the brain and tune-out quickly if the message doesn’t make immediate sense because it is too complex or indirect.

The right path follows storytelling principles that show up regularly in great music and movies.

Here are storytelling elements Emergent considers along the path.

  1. Every great story has a hero. Here, it is the consumer and their wants, needs and concerns.
  2. The hero always has a problem to overcome. What is the brand working to solve for them?
  3. A good story always has a bit of mystery – a secret, a key – something which brings context previously unknown. For food and beverage brands, we must gain insight on the most important lifestyle consideration (and its related dietary attribute) the consumer is seeking from the product – the “why” of their repeat purchases.
  4. Every strong story has a Yoda to its Luke Skywalker, helping the consumer achieve their goals, overcome adversity and create a plan. The brand operates as the consumer’s guide and coach.
  5. What can the brand further do to support and enable our hero’s lifestyle aspirations?
  6. We also help people understand what success looks like and how the brand supports their lifestyle goals.
  7. Interwoven throughout the story is the brand’s higher purpose which centers on a mission that consumers can “join” as an aligned value they embrace. The brand’s higher purpose goes beyond the product itself. This is frequently missing from the whole narrative and yet it is a key story point in driving connection.

When we make consumers the center of the story and consider their journey and desire to be part of something that’s greater than themselves, we imbue the brand with relevance and deeper meaning.

An example:

  • Beyond Meat understood that meat lovers love meat taste and its familiar texture. They carefully designed the eating experience and message to reinforce the ‘no taste sacrifice’ of a re-imagined plant-based burger.
  • The brand’s higher purpose was embedded in the environmental advantages of resources NOT consumed in plant-based meat production. They did not attempt to present the product as a vegan ‘health food’ in the traditional syntax. Nutritionals would not have supported it anyway. The words plant-based already come embedded with a healthy halo.
  • The sizzle, the cooking, the culinary adventure of fully dressed burger images all played to a latent backyard barbecue indulgence trope that have made hamburgers the most popular sandwich on earth. Boom.

The connection is interweaving burger savory indulgence with the consumer’s desire to eat healthier and bring more plant-based foods into their diet. The food science part of it is frankly less interesting and does not reside at the heart of why people decide to buy.

Apple Computer, upon Steve Jobs return from exile, embarked on a marketing campaign for the ages that focused entirely on the consumer’s journey and their desire for creativity and achievement – instead of tech specsmanship. They didn’t dwell on the machines or software but rather on the opportunity to change the world around us for the better. To Think Different. That’s higher purpose.

When the message is right, outcomes are assured

The goal is creating marketing that people actually want rather than choose to avoid. At the heart of effectiveness is messaging that resonates because it’s about the consumer’s journey and passions.

When we have a richer understanding of our consumers and their lives, it feeds proper input into the messaging model. Understanding the main lifestyle attribute they seek from the product, allows us to focus and simplify. Anchoring to a clear message is respectful of the very limited amount of time we have to communicate successfully. At the store shelf, this is mere seconds.

Emergent’s proprietary approach to message development is founded on consumer insight and making them the hero with the brand performing as expert guide. This formula is fundamental to creating marketing that works because the audience is listening.

The outcome eliminates misfires, disconnects and promotes the start of a deeper consumer relationship based on serving mutual interests. The brand’s goal is to make a difference in the consumer’s life. When that happens, the rewards are reaped in business growth.

Emergent client engagements begin with an audit of current messaging and assessments against the backdrop of category competition. This is done alongside efforts to mine consumer insight for understanding of key lifestyle aspirations and dietary attributes heavy users want to solve (key to repurchase velocity) with the product.

The plan for success

We use a proprietary mapping tool for this purpose, to bring ideas forward that overcome the key barriers to engagement.

The right messaging then informs communications tools that connect and achieve memorability, relevance, which in turn fuels growth and acquisition of new brand fans.

May we help you create a new path to marketing message success in 2020?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism

December 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “Curbing the Pandemic of Brand Narcissism”

Most brand messaging misses the mark because it’s upside down.

Far too many brands and businesses are inadvertently ignoring the fundamentals of successful communication. Engagement is elusive and budgets are wasted because brand stories are either ignored or actively avoided. The misfire happens because the basic principles of how consumers respond to communication relevant to them isn’t embedded in how the brand goes to market.

Every great, powerful and engaging story needs a hero, a problem to solve, a guide, a struggle and a transformative outcome. But most of the time brands make themselves the hero of the story, focused on myopic selling of product features and benefits. Right there the disconnect occurs because consumers aren’t listening any longer to self-serving forms of brand outreach.

Brand narcissism is alive and well…

It’s a pandemic. Far too many businesses believe the marketing strategy needs to be about themselves. Conventional logic states the challenge is clearly, succinctly stating the product attributes in a persuasive (where creative weighs in) way. There was a time pre-Internet when brands controlled the flow of communication and this form of outreach was the norm.

In the digital era consumers have gained absolute control over the brand/user relationship and their ability to avoid “selling” is unassailable. All it takes is a few hours of commercial interruption on TV and you are witness to the pandemic of brand narcissism that reigns over the airwaves on a daily basis. The explosion of streaming platforms that are devoid of commercial side trips is testimony to the relief consumers want from the constant drip of 30-second selling.

The secret to going from upside down to right side up

But there’s hope, and light, and resolution ahead. Together we can end the tyranny of brand narcissism and gain the eyes, ears and devotion of consumers who embrace the brands they care about and actively “join” the brand as members of a growing, engaged community.

Who is the hero of the brand story? It’s not the brand, it’s the consumer. When the brand puts the consumer at the center of strategy creation and works backwards from there, the door is opened to a potential connection. It is the consumer’s needs, pain points, problems, concerns, wants, desires and aspirations that matter most. The story begins with them and in that moment of insight we find the most important opportunity for improved brand communication and outcomes: relevance – to the consumer and their life’s journey that we are working to improve.

What is the brand’s role in the story? Every winning, successful cinematic story follows a similar path – the brand is the guide, the expert, the wizard who helps the hero learn and understand the path to transformation. Luke Skywalker had Yoda. Frodo had Gandalf. The brand is an inspiring coach in a storytelling dynamic that begins with understanding and empathy for the consumer’s interests and struggle for improvement.

Food and beverage the living example

What is it consumers are looking for from what they eat and drink? You may think it’s 25 percent less sodium or plant-based ingredients. People have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. What they care about is their health and wellness; the connection that has to their energy, performances and longevity.

We are all human beings and in that irrefutable condition, who desire the experience of great taste and the warmth of social interaction around the dinner table with friends and families. For some, the love of food runs deep in the kitchen where creativity, experimentation and learning are unleashed, while delivering the product of that skill as an expression of love for others in the family who will enjoy the feast they’ve prepared.

Functionally some foods may also be tools to improve exercise regimens, sports activity, assist sleep, promote brain function or the like. But it isn’t the chemistry they care about. It’s the ambitions they have for personal change and improvement. Are we talking about their journey, conflicts and desires? Is the brand a guide and coach along the way?

This works when the brand realizes the path to greatness and transformative growth is fueled by actually, actively working to improve the lives of customers. This requires a less transactional view of the relationship.

The role of higher purpose

At a recent gathering of new and emerging brands at a conference in Chicago connecting potential investors with founders, a dozen companies made their pitch to an audience of potential check writers and influencers. I was surprised that only one out of the dozen presenters talked about a higher purpose for their brand and business.

It may be popular these days to say that the vast collection of new food brands now coming to a shelf near you all begin with a mission to support sustainable agriculture, lower the carbon foot print, hydrate those around the globe without access to potable water, but we find that many have not optimized or fully discovered the higher purpose they need to embrace.

Why does this matter? Because consumers want to align themselves with brands that share similar values. People are on the hunt for deeper meaning and care, deeply, about the role beyond commerce that brands play in making the world a better place. This cannot be bolted on to the marketing plan; it needs to come from a deeper space and with greater significance that informs every decision the business makes.

The impact on brand storytelling and traction is dramatic. People want to be a part of something greater than themselves. When the brand has a real mission, there’s a reason to join the community of followers that transcends the high-quality recipe made with natural, organic ingredients.

This is harder than it looks

You can’t dial up higher purpose from central casting. You can’t simply alter the tone of your communication without understanding the consumer’s real wants and wishes. At Emergent, we employ a message mapping process designed to capture this insight and intentionally design the brand story around the connection between consumer as hero and brand as guide.

It can be hard to stop the train of brand narcissism because it feels somewhat natural to be inwardly focused. After all most businesses are organized around the herculean efforts to create a terrific product.

However, the benefits of moving to an enlightened model with the consumer at the center are significant and bring assurance that the investments made in outbound communication will indeed engage and be received.

After all, brands want confidence that the investments in marketing are optimal and perform as desired. That confidence will be realized when the outreach plan understands the vital role of reciprocity in the relationship with consumers who graciously grant their most precious asset: scarce time and attention.

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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.

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