Posts tagged "storytelling"

Think Beyond: Lessons in Disruption from Beyond Meat

November 18th, 2019 Posted by Brand preference, brand strategy, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, Growth, Healthy lifestyle, Integrated Communications 0 comments on “Think Beyond: Lessons in Disruption from Beyond Meat”

Guidance on how to hit the food brand home run

Poised to create and capture the next wave in center-of-plate meal preferences, Beyond Meat is scaling at break-neck speed in both grocery and foodservice channels, throwing off sparks of insight to all emerging food brands who will listen about the new path to relevance and glory.

At Chicago’s recent Good Food Financing conference produced by the venerable Jim Slama of Family Farmed and Good Food Accelerator, keynote speaker Seth Goldman held the audience of embryonic food brand founders and equity investment executives in rapt attention while delivering a data driven highlights reel of business home run after home run. The score sheet demonstrated in dramatic fashion how Beyond Meat’s team is leading the nascent meatless meat invasion, while disrupting conventions and traditions of the legacy animal-based proteins industry.

Within Goldman’s engaging recap of refrigerated beef patty without the beef, was a significant revelation to all of the strategic leaps Beyond Meat achieved. “Animals are really four-legged bio-processors of plant materials, converting the ingredients to meat,” he said. Thus, meat in truth actually comes from plants, and Beyond has amazingly reverse engineered the components of meat structure to imitate and recreate the same bite and flavor characteristics of the animal variety.

Said Goldman: “Our goal is to enable consumers to eat what they love.” Right there was respect for what consumers want, and a vault from making vegetarian meat for vegetarians to making plant-based meat for meat lovers. The foundations of this strategic narrative are critical and inform how the entire Beyond story unfolded. Within his story is a living example of what separates ‘just another one’ from a meaningful innovation that influences consumer behavior and informs the future of food.

It worked because this plant-based juggernaut fully delivered on its promise to replicate the animal meat taste and texture eating experience. “Traditional veggie burgers look to us like a plot by the meat industry to make sure plant-based versions aren’t a threat because, let’s face it, they don’t taste very good – and I’m a vegetarian,” Goldman reports.

Meanwhile the plant-based category table is set for dinner:

Trend lines seem clear that plant-based anything is on the way up, as consumers “flex” their preferences and look for what they believe are healthier alternatives that are friendlier to the environment but which also deliver fully on taste experiences consumers crave.

According to IPSOS, 54 percent of consumers say they’re trying to consume fewer animal-based foods and eat more plant-based options. What’s going on here? Shifting values mixed with health and wellness is what’s going on. SPIN Scan data reveals that refrigerated plant-based meat is up 37 percent year on year to $212 million in sales.

No surprise, it is outpacing animal meat sales. Within the $270 billion US meat category, plant-based share is under 1 percent. The upside is significant and bodes well for Beyond as first mover and brand perception leader in the space.

Mintel’s 2018 “Better for you Eating Trends” study provides evidence of why it’s best to strike when the macro trends are working in your favor. In their national survey, Mintel found across all four primary age segments, consumers said they agree with the following statements:

  • Plant-based protein is healthy – yes for 74 to 80%
  • Plant-based foods are better for the environment – yes for 47 to 63%
  • Plant-based functional claims are trustworthy – yes for 35 to 56%
  • Plant based foods are better for you than animal options – yes for 42 to 50%

Dollar sales for plant-based meat in the aggregate, frozen or fresh, is $801 million and rising rapidly.

By the way, this form of market-opportunity-assessment matters for the business plan!

Emergent Guidance on the Path to Victory

Surveying the adjacent exhibit hall of new, emerging food and beverage brands, Beyond stood as the “A” lister in a field of hopefuls who bare their heart and soul daily in product concepts that authentically align with higher quality, more artisanal and healthier food solutions now fueling the renaissance in Good Food. The acid test, however, is can they redefine the categories they’re playing in or will they plateau among a collection of similar offerings with similar stories and similar preparations.

The secrets to outsized success continue to follow six repeating themes:

  1. Think Differently Going In

It would have been logical and expected for Beyond – founded by Ethan Brown, a vegetarian – to exist in service of that ethos and segment, working to create a better product for this devoted marketplace. But the mental leap to create a product for meat lovers caused the entire R&D development process to rally around a specific standard of performance and outcome with a moonshot at a VERY big market. Vegetarians are roughly 5% of the population and have remained anchored at that level for some time.

The goal to build an analog to meat inspired the revolution unfolding before us.

  1. Disrupt the Space You’re Entering

Beyond Meat defied the conventions and expectations of its veg foundation, opting to swing for the meat department case fence. Beyond could have easily been a frozen product in the vegetarian section freezer case. Instead they pushed and cajoled retailers to merchandize their products alongside animal meat, and in doing so, not only accentuate the perception that this was a legit option to a beef product, but also meet the meat shoppers where they shop.

Entrepreneurs would be well advised to look for extreme disruption, major departures, unconventional solutions, big moves on the perception chess board that constitute uniqueness.

Legacy food brands often suffer from a recurring illness we refer to as line extension-itis. Read as, adjustments, incremental improvements to an existing idea that don’t ultimately reframe the category.

Relatively minor improvements to ingredient strategies, recipes, preparation techniques or story may not be enough to inspire the kind of attention and magic that leads to new category creation, the zenith of best-in-class marketing opportunity.

  1. Focus on Taste Satisfaction

Formulation can be a fickle friend. While hitting benchmarks on nutritional label improvements and better-for-you metrics, taste sometimes gets marginalized. I will never forget my first bite of a Beyond Burger at the Chicago Restaurant Show, in a backwater booth buried in the better for you zone, where curiosity got me up to the table. And then – Holy Cow – I swore it was a ‘burger burger,’ not a veggie burger. Relentless search of optimal marriage between culinary and taste considerations with healthier is paramount. Taste wins every time.

  1. Place the Right Bets

Most people believe that plant-based anything is healthier, but Beyond wisely did not elect to make nutritionals a predominant part of their go-to-market game plan. For the simple reason, that pound for pound a Beyond Burger isn’t necessarily a traditional nutrition label winner. Yes there’s no cholesterol, but…

Instead Beyond wisely pursued a values-based messaging platform weighed against the environmental tax exacted by raising animals who compete for natural resources. Beyond Meat tells us their product creation process (compared to animals) consumes or produces:

79% less water

93% less land

90% fewer greenhouse gases

46% less energy

  1. Tell Your Story, everywhere your customer or stakeholder can be found

If Seth isn’t a walking, talking personification of this point, I don’t know what is. Goldman the Ambassador of Beyond is everywhere, bringing the remarkable news of the company’s outsized performance to any and all who will listen.

These business and media audiences are chocked full of content creators and reporting types like me who turn around and do what I’m doing here.

We extol emerging brand companies — be careful not to  short sheet the brand building process early on. Yes, cash is at a premium and yes, resources are limited, but the “if we build it they will come” mentality is a recipe for small ball. All marketing is strategic storytelling. You have to invest here and sooner rather than later.

It takes experienced hands to shape and inform the consumer-ready brand story efficiently and with great impact – thus, why Emergent exists. We’re good at this, but then again, we’ve been doing it to great effect across multiple categories and honed our communications techniques and strategies.

  1. Relentlessly Innovate

Goldman will tell you the Beyond Burger today is different, and better, than the Beyond product was when they first got traction. He claims the company has 70 scientists at their Manhattan Project campus in California, working around the clock to improve their taste, recipe and nutritionals – and to innovate new products like the recent Dunkin ‘Beyond Sausage Sandwich’ for the hand-held breakfast crowd. Don’t rest on your laurels, don’t stop working to make it better and to search for the next meaningful adjacency where the product concept can go to solve yet another problem or capture another market opportunity.

Be careful, however, to avoid extending your brand in areas too far afield of your core equity where the proposition dilutes rather than builds on what consumers believe is your expertise.

While the barriers to entry have fallen away for emerging food and beverage ideas, and yes everyone knows it won’t be easy, there are key ingredients in here that spell the difference from modest growth to something that looks like Beyond Meat.

Our Offer…

So we make this offer: let us come in and conduct an audit, no cost, of your current platform, product concept, supply chain, and business opportunities. We’ll provide an assessment and make some recommendations and if you agree, perhaps we can partner on a future path to business transformation.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Let me know.

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.

Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator

November 10th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Pet food, Pet food marketing, storytelling, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Transparency Is a Brand Trust Generator”

Case study: How to become a truly transparent brand

The impact of the ‘always on’ digitally-enabled world we live in is an emerging consumer desire to know the backstory and details of how products are created. Not surprising when you factor in the number one lifestyle concern for people across all age segments is health and wellness. This seek-to-understand behavior is transforming the human and pet food industries.

In parallel, consumers now care deeply about the businesses’ respective mission, purpose, and authenticity – seeking to connect with brands which share their values. As a result, consumers want to understand what’s in the food they’re buying and how the company’s standards and mission are brought to life inside the products they make.

Why is this happening?

Relevance:

First, consumers have connected the dots between the quality of what they ingest and the quality of their lives. People care about the foods they’re eating – and want to know more about them. Equally true for pet food.

Belief:

Second, because of eroding, declining trust in the claims and assertions made by brands about their products – consumers are seeking objective, credible sources of information to help them make their own informed judgments.

Personally symbolic:

Third, purchases have become emblematic of what people want the outside world to believe is important to them – so they seek reassurance of high-quality ingredients, ethical standards, healthier and made sustainably.

The concept of Transparency has floated to the top as shorthand for this intense, growing desire to experience and verify what brands claim about their products.

Why this should matter to you:

Consumer trust precedes any kind of relationship and willingness to engage with a brand or product. Trust is earned, not inherently owned – and is based on intentional investments (that don’t look, smell or feel like advertising) to secure it.

If you want your marketing to be welcomed (rather than click to avoid) and believed, then trust is a fundamental requirement. Transparency provides an operable platform for how this is achieved.

What is transparency?

Being truly transparent is about openness, disclosure, access and operating in a trustworthy and forthright manner. Call it actively encouraging observation, scrutiny and reporting from outside sources.

Verifying and validating what you want others to believe about your quality and integrity commitments creates the opportunity for a meaningful conversation with consumers and stakeholders. Respect and reputation are not commodities that come along with simply existing. They are difficult to create and hard to hold onto over time.

Best practices case study: Champion Petfoods

Disclaimer: this is a platform Emergent created and brought to life for Champion after a comprehensive audit of their operations, strengths and unique company commitments.

It goes without saying the pet food industry universally demands trust from its core customers. Given the nature of the product form (ubiquitous brown kibble) pet parents are required to buy into the statements and claims made by brands concerning ingredient quality and how the food is prepared.

Driving this interest is the intense desire pet parent have to express their love for their pets through the quality of the diet provided. Engaged pet owners try as best they can to discern product labels to understand the meaning of words, phrases and insider language used in the pet food world (like meat meal).

Still, a trust gap exists between what’s claimed by brands versus what can be credibly verified.

  • According to a recent study reported in Pet Food Industry magazine, 75% of consumers are willing to switch from their current brand to one that provides more in-depth product information than what appears on the physical label. That’s up from 39% in 2016.

Champion Petfoods is at the forefront of the protein forward, meat-focused, biologically appropriate approach to what has been popularly described as ancestral diet. The company’s early success was attributed to pioneering the focus on percentages of high-quality proteins in the recipe. Champion uses comparatively high levels of fresh and raw animal meat respectful of the physiology and eating anatomy of dogs and cats.

Additionally, to deliver on their mission the company started early to invest in an extensive network of regional farms, ranches and fish supplier partnerships to provide real food ingredients, many within driving distance of their kitchens. This helps enable Champion to be fully transparent about their ingredient sources, sustainability commitments and aligned production standards for its Orijen and Acana brands.

The Champion Transparency Council

The Transparency Council platform was created by Emergent, to address consumers’ evolving need to know more, and in so doing, begin a new conversation with them that addresses their questions about ingredients and safety, nutrition and quality.

This more earnest and authentic approach – galvanized by the Council’s independence and third-party voice – manifested as a sophisticated content engine designed to cement trust and generate a more informative and engaging brand communication.

Highlights:

Emergent conducted a comprehensive recruiting effort for expert Veterinary physician members and a social media based public search for two pet parents to join the four-member Council.

Their mission:  to observe, verify and report on everything Champion does related to making pet food.

Given the significance of trust and transparency to the Council’s mission, it was critical to leverage Champion’s unique supply chain relationships, state-of-the-art kitchens and knowledgeable personnel to underscore the integrity of its stated Biologically Appropriate pet food mandate.

Outcomes:

  • The Council delivered an ongoing content creation platform that carries with it the authentic voice of outside third-party experts and pet parents, offering valuable communication that people want rather than seek to avoid.
  • Champion secured the mantle of Transparency industry leadership at a time when this is an important consideration on the path to purchase.
  • Champion went from zero to 60 quickly as an industry leading editorial voice, in part because the Council and its activity was precedent-setting and newsworthy for the industry.

Emergent Guidance:

  1. Transparency is best served with embedded credibility, using the voices of independent, third parties to report and verify what the company claims about its products.
  2. Openness is a prerequisite and underscores a perception of inclusiveness and honesty.
  3. Seeing is believing, so the deployment of third parties helps fuel an ongoing source of reporting that, over time, can evolve into a channel of helpful, useful guidance on issues and topics important to core customers.
  4. Transparency-based information is ready-made for social channel distribution and helps close the loop on what brand fans believe and say is the reason for their advocacy and brand evangelism.
  5. We have left the era of brand-voiced assertions of performance, and entered a time when trust is paramount and earning it is a requirement for success. Invoking the transparency word in a sentence isn’t nearly as powerful as backing it up with authentic behaviors and actions.

If you’re exploring the power of transparency and would like to know more details about this case study and the tactics, activation and media we deployed, let’s find a time to 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.

Importance of Brand Building to the Future of Emerging Food and Beverage Businesses

October 24th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emerging brands, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose 0 comments on “Importance of Brand Building to the Future of Emerging Food and Beverage Businesses”

Early priority trap – singular devotion to sales

In our interactions with emerging food and beverage brands we take note of a consistent condition between virtually all nascent businesses: a single-minded focus on sales. Certainly it makes sense especially in the earlier stages of development that founders/owners are preoccupied with securing the next account and building the pipeline.

It’s not unusual for us to see lean teams with limited bandwidths deployed in a recurring cycle of production to distribution to account selling activity. Marketing in these cases is often light on strategy – and reduced to a few tactics in the form of social media posts, periodic press releases and an occasional third-party influencer/blogger outreach.

Today we make the case for starting early to invest in brand building. In the end entrepreneurs may believe they are on earth to sell their better mousetrap, and more of it, until an exit strategy is achieved. In fact, what should also be going on here is purposeful development of the one asset that holds the valuation multiples and burnishes the customer relationship, your brand.

Why This is Important Now

People are emotional creatures who (backed by reams of scientific evidence on behavior) do NOT make fact based, rational decisions on the brands they prefer and that matter to them. The story you should be telling must be specifically packaged and presented to begin sewing the emotional fabric and connectivity to your brand and its deeper meaning. Brand purpose is not a nice to have, it’s a must have.

Simply stated: you are not selling a product but rather a feeling people have in the presence of your product. Here we’ll lay out the pathway to greater success and scale based on a more enlightened view of what’s required to make the leap to sound marketing.

Primacy of Product Experience

First, we should acknowledge that in the early stages the magic in generating trial is the very experience people have with your product. This is where the higher quality ingredients, the artisanal recipes, the more authentic production of a better tasting food or beverage gets noticed. Your brand, a virtual unknown, secures traction because it delivers on its promise of a higher quality, better for you, great taste experience.

More than at any other time in the history of food and beverage, the consumer is primed for the innovative, the new, the better-quality version of many iconic categories from chips and crackers to ice cream. Bone broth instead of soup stock. Heart healthy snack bars. Artisan peanut butter. Upscale and functional teas. Heirloom produce. Small batch you name it… the list is long and getting longer of new players summoning the efficacy of healthier ingredients and better preparations on a clean label.

Yet while the product is indeed the marketing at the front door for emerging brands, the attention to strategic brand building shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘we’ll get to it someday’ part of the operating plan. Again, for emphasis here, brand cultivation is an investment in establishing relevance and connecting with consumers who are most likely to try your brand, rather than a result of how many press releases are pushed out the door.

The Rule of Sameness

In virtually every edition of the Food Navigator newsletter you’ll find new products in launch phase. The sheer ubiquity and volume of new ideas making their way to grocery shelves or direct-to-consumer platforms is astounding. Higher quality retail outlets like Whole Foods are shopped by ‘what’s new’ hunter gatherers on the prowl for great ideas, ready to plunk down the higher price for a shot at a better product experience – at least once. I know, I’m one of them.

But the go-to-market recipe employed by more than a few reinforces a condition that exists in far too many product categories – the Rule of Sameness. Emerging brands often observe the conventions in the category they do business in and, intentionally or not, replicate behaviors that are common to the business segment. Some great decisions are made in innovative packaging but for the most part players tend to look similar on shelf. Tactics are similar. Pricing is similar. Color schemes and messaging are similar. When RX Bar decided to put “No Bull___t” on the front of their bar package, that may have done more for advancement of the business than anything else. Not that expletive is a precursor to greatness. It was just unexpected (see disruption below) and an outlier move.

Perhaps the best category on earth to observe this phenomenon of sameness would be pet food, where it runs rampant. So much so that you can interchange messaging between many brands and it would still fit. Protein percentage is now the reference standard of pet food quality.

Disruption is a Requirement

The word disruption sounds a little scary, but the principle applies here. In essence it means to zig when everyone else zags. Uniqueness and differentiation are vital components of a strong strategy and are particularly meaningful when the marketing budget looks eerily similar to your take home pay rather than something approximating the gross national product of Belize.

When every dollar invested needs to work like ten, the requirements of sound strategy comes to the front quickly. The story you tell, how it’s told, to whom, how it’s packaged and presented all matter in attempting to engage an emotional creature. Emotive language?

More often than not emerging brands lean too far into a self-reverential form of messaging that conveys ‘it’s all about me, not you’ when in fact it is all about them (consumers), all the time. How does your brand become a guide, coach and enabler of the lifestyle interests and concerns of your core user?

It is when we bathe ourselves in the customer’s lifestyle needs and aspirations that we can find the path to relevance, connection and also engagement on a modest budget. You have an uncommon product so don’t be common.

Standing out is a prerequisite because things tend to run together at retail, especially at the shelf where snap judgments are made daily. Words matter. Context is important. Emotion is key. Relevance is the bottom line that leads to success.

How do you do that? That’s why Emergent exists.

Absence of a Fully Baked Mission

We have ample evidence that consumers care about sustainable farming, about transparency, about ingredient integrity, contributing to the greater good and offering something consumers can believe in beyond the transaction.

Yet even in the midst of popular culture’s insistence that most new food brands come to the table with an embedded mission, more often than not, we find it isn’t fully baked, and in some cases tacked on like a ‘new and improved’ package violator. Successful brands today come to market with a soul. This may explain why it’s increasingly difficult for legacy brands to pivot because finding a soul is hard to do.

If the approach to building business is purely transactional, then even the messaging around a belief or mission rings hollow because consumers are marvelously adept at seeing and separating assertions from reality.

A higher purpose has to inform everything the company does from sourcing to production and how you got to market. Actions speak louder than words and offering the consumer something to believe in, matched by authentic behavior is the road to trust. Trust by the way sits at the foundation of every successful business now — and is increasingly hard to come by given the barrage of misdeeds, misrepresentations, selfishness and fractures of truth people see almost everyday.

This is why we’ve designed a specific program to help bring greater texture and definition to what higher purpose is and how it should show up in what the brand is about.

Your Brand and Emotional Connectivity

Belief, mission, purpose, essential truths and lifestyle relevance all combine as the alchemy for brand building in an age when the size of your ad budget isn’t linked to the depth of your brand franchise.

That said, it requires attention and intention to put brand building strategies into the mix early. The result is better traction, improved engagement and a quicker ascent with a story that resonates.

Convinced? We would be happy to share more of these insights, just drop me a line.

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.

 

 

 

 

Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement

October 10th, 2019 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Digital marketing, Emergent Column, Healthy Living, storytelling 0 comments on “Emergent – Architects of Brand Engagement”

Our ‘elevator speech’ requires unconventional response

At the recent GroceryShop convention “Friends of the Future” networking event we helped produce in Las Vegas, I was asked repeatedly, “what is Emergent?” – The event was an exciting veritable meet-and-greet mosh pit of first-time introductions. At one point a colleague of ours from the Food Marketing Institute turned to me during an overture to a Pepsico executive and said, “Bob, give him the elevator speech about Emergent.”

In these moments when time and everyone’s headspace is at a premium, we tend to default to the simple explanation, frequently bound up in the tactics of what we do. So reflexively I reached for the convenient list of tools in the toolbox: brand strategy and positioning guidance, earned and social media, etc.

I left these conversations thinking, “that really doesn’t convey the essence of our secret sauce.”

A reflection on who we are and why that should matter to you

When we look back over time at the special moments when clients have allowed us to rise to our very best, we find a legacy of bigger ideas and strategic concepts that represent game changes of various kinds in various categories.

Understanding that transformational change is at the core of what we do, this immediately shifts the focus from tactics and tools to strategic platforms that inform the solution. Candidly, communications tactics without a strategic, differentiating concept forming the foundation underneath are just messaging vessels.

So here it is: Emergent is in the CPG brand and food retail transformation business, delivering strategic platforms that can impact the behavior of the organization and its business to bring incremental, sustainable growth. Yes, we can actualize strategic ideas all the way to the ground and execute at the tactical level, but it’s the diagnostic upfront and our ability to not only see the big picture but distill the barriers to added growth that represents our defining moments with clients.

The real secret sauce is Lori Miller, my partner, and me in our strategic diagnostic analysis that helps build a roadmap for change. More often than not, we find organizations mired in the conventions and routines in their category and how they go to market. Thinking differently means looking for the marketing “zig” when everyone else is “zagging.” This is baked into how we tend to see things. Uniqueness and differentiation are never overrated.

Clients desperately want their marketing investments to hit engagement squarely on the head, no pun intended. Engagement these days, however, demands a customer-first approach to literally everything a company does.

Rule number one – we know the consumer is in charge and control of the brand relationship, requiring businesses to be less self-absorbed and more creative and agile in how they look at the opportunity to earn permission for a relationship.

Yes, relationship.

Consumers are on the hunt for deeper meaning in the products that matter to them and want brands they choose to engage with and buy, to be a mirror of their values and passions.

So, as a strategic brand communications platform, the standard, “let’s focus on the product features and benefits” messaging as the marketing chin you lead with is a non-starter. Self-reverential communication is exactly that.

Thus at Emergent, we are indeed Architects of Engagement. We work to ameliorate the tendency to dance the dance of self-serving promotion when the real opportunity starts with enabling, coaching, and guiding your consumers on their journey to greater fulfillment. This is where the messaging focus and relationships move beyond transactional interruptions and pleas. The goal is authentic alignment and conversation with consumers and the opportunity then for legitimate interaction and belief.

A specific point of view that recurs in our work

One of Emergent’s key insights is reflected in our agency’s ‘Validation Marketing’ planning model. We believe that consumers increasingly are challenged to trust the assertions and claims made by brands. In our digital always-on world, we all are confronted daily with a variety of public revelations in the media of misdeeds, scandals, errors of omission, half-truths and hyperbole.

Brand trust has taken a hit, and year on year, we see evidence of declines. Earning trust is fundamental to successful marketing outcomes and so we develop transformational strategic platforms, tools and tactics that help burnish trust, including:

  • A first-in-its-industry Transparency Council for a premium pet food brand in a category where consumer demand to know more about what’s in the food and how it’s made is valued and differentiating; and
  • Creating the first “True Cheese” trust mark in the cheese industry in a segment marred by product fraud and mislabeling to elevate our client’s brand and integrity above the bad acters.

We strategically deploy social media as a pipeline to social proof in the observations of delighted user stories.

We engage outside experts and credible voices to help validate what a brand states are the essential truths about their product.

We employ earned media to bring the imprimatur of editorial, reportorial assessments in consumer and trade news channels.

We create videos, that in unscripted moments, capture the essence of consumer experience and ‘see for yourselves’ tours behind the product creation curtain.

In the end, it’s our empathy for consumers as people and insight into their desires and concerns that is embedded in Emergent’s thinking. This is foundational as a primary skill in our client engagements; best seen in our devotion to putting the consumer at the center of planning each and every time. Out of that study comes relevant messaging we can successfully deploy.

Health and wellness – redefined – no longer a tertiary consideration

One visit to our web site and there in headline form is this recurring statement about Healthy Living. For a long time, “healthy” was defined as a food science proposition in varying attempts to create addition (healthier) by subtraction – less calories, fat, sugar or sodium.

Now, health and wellness are fundamental to what consumers want and is redefined as emphasis on high quality, real food experiences – less processed and with a provenance story to tell – that delivers greater transparency to the supply chain and entire product creation process.

  • We know how to bring this to life and secure relevance to these principles at a time when consumers absolutely demand it.

We’re on a mission, too

As keepers of this essential truth and the flame of consumer relevance as the non-negotiable precursor to engagement and purchase, we see our mission to bring this understanding to organizations seeking to write a new chapter – whether that’s an emerging brand or an established legacy business.

This is what gets us up in the morning and characterizes our ambitions and goals for what Emergent brings to the marketing challenge for our clients.

Should this strike a chord with you, we should 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.

 

 

Shared Values Signal Purchase Intent

September 14th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Shared Values Signal Purchase Intent”

Are you speaking clearly or in Morse Code?

During World War II and prior to the U.S. entering the war, the British government working feverishly to counteract the devastating German Blitzkrieg, authorized the launch of a spy network intended to sabotage the Nazi war infrastructure. It was called the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and began training ordinary people with a passion for country and duty to become spies and saboteurs. Their principle form of communication would be Morse Code. The objective to avoid detection while operating behind enemy lines.

The cinematic stories of heroism and sacrifice are legion as SOE undertook its desperate calling to disrupt – by blowing up trains and power stations, often while hiding in plain sight. These days some brand communication starts to feel a bit like spy-savvy Morse Code. Businesses can find it hard to step away from internally-focused, self-reverential monologues and ‘us-speak’ to, instead, talk plainly and directly with people about what THEY care about. Conversation not code.

It was strong beliefs and shared values that underscored the passions and bravery of SOE operatives that drove their communication. Those same characteristics, passion of shared interests, values and connection, now mark the attitudinal changes governing how people interact with brands and make purchase decisions.

Consumer behavior research over the last five years has monitored the change to what we call ‘symbolic purchase’. As beliefs and values increasingly shape popular culture and thinking, we observe that people use their purchases to flag to others who they are and what they care about. Purchases have become posters of personal expression and are largely emblematic demonstrations people believe will telegraph to everyone what they think is important. Not in Morse Code but in real, observable terms.

What Are Your Values and Are They Aligned with your desired consumers?

You may have detected the increased importance of shared values in how consumers decide what brands and businesses matter enough to them to be granted a small portion of brain time, consideration and wallet. For many years, marketers were preoccupied with efforts to convey their, hopefully, superior product features and benefits in the firm belief that logic and rational arguments would hold sway. After all, it’s 25 percent faster than the other leading brand, right?

People have evolved, and our insight optics have improved. We know that humans are driven by heart-over-head – and that all purchases are influenced through emotional connectivity. Indeed, it is the absence of genuine connection that sits at the foundation of why some brands struggle to truly engage their customers.

This isn’t, by the way, a discussion of new media channels or digital platforms, mostly social, as a means to secure the engagement sweet spot. Failure to nail relevance can be traced back to overlooking a prerequisite to correctly mine the consumers’ continual search for deeper meaning.

What your brand says, does, how it behaves and the many signals it broadcasts (some intentional and some simply reflected by actions – which always speak louder than words) either reveals shared values or it doesn’t. And as such, it will resonate and motivate people to want to interact with and purchase your brand or it won’t. This is in some ways a character issue more so than about deploying clever words and phrases.

Here’s the LitmusTest:

What do your best customers care about? And that question is not a request for evaluation of your features and benefits!

  • How do they live?
  • What do they struggle with?
  • What are their aspirations and dreams?
  • What are their concerns, wants and wishes?
  • How is your brand and business an enabler and partner in making their lives better and answering their desire for deeper meaning?

In our increasingly cynical society people have become less trusting and more skeptical. The Internet amplifies this by illuminating every misstep, mistake, scandal and recall to a replay-able loop-tape of evidence that businesses tend to look after their own self-interest. In response to this, consumers yearn to connect with brands that are built around a higher purpose, a shared value system and, frankly, a “soul” that transcends commerce.

Mining the Treasure Trove of Engagement

What an amazing opportunity for the more enlightened brand-minders who can blaze a trail to long-term connection with their users. How can we create marketing that people actually want and seek out rather than work to avoid? Having the courage to disconnect the hard-sell and instead, start talking with consumers about their interests and needs is the starting line for deeper connection.

  • For example: When the pet food company recognizes it’s not in the kibble business but in the pet care relationship and guidance business, you begin to see how the brand voice should evolve and how a bond can be nurtured. How exciting to be forging connections and conversations around the lifestyle people seek out with their four-legged family members. The specific quality of nutrition and ingredients doesn’t become unimportant. Rather, it’s what chin do you lead with – protein percentages or health and wellbeing? It’s the latter.

The great news here is the treasure trove of content engagement opportunities that can be created with an audience on the hunt for a steady diet of this material.

What is the Main Goal of Marketing?

If you simmer everything down to its core essence, the mission of marketing is trust creation. We have ample evidence that trust is an elusive commodity. It’s hard to secure it and even harder to keep it.

Trust development cannot just be a “strategy” in the marketing plan. It is an outcome of the very belief system and values we’ve been talking about here. There’s no ‘fake it till you make it’ in the trust curation department.

  • The heroic performances of SOE recruits was delivered through an out-sized commitment to their mission and higher purpose. Their calling serves as a stunning example of what’s possible when more is going on than just seeking transactions.

The irony here, is the less selfish aspects of caring about the health and wellbeing of customers and contributing to achieving their life goals, in fact, feeds the relationship that leads to transactions. Fearlessly leaning into the understanding that shared values precedes the creation of any type of affinity or loyalty.  The honest development of a real bond and relationship is where all of this begins.

One of the most exciting aspects of our work at Emergent is when a client looks for guidance in this very arena and we have the extraordinary privilege of helping define what that higher purpose looks like and how it can become an anchor for business and marketing strategy.

What’s the definition of a really big idea? It’s an idea that you can immediately, obviously see how it will impact the behavior of the organization from top to bottom. The beauty of landing on this understanding is the refreshing clarity it delivers to every decision around product, innovation, organization, people and very importantly, marketing that works.

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.

 

 

 

 

Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet

March 6th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Uncategorized, Validation 0 comments on “Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet”

Transparency advances to gold standard for successful brand building

The value proposition of verified truth and honesty is rapidly turning into the foundation of strong marketing strategy in an era where consumers, starved of trust and belief, impose change on how brand relationships are built.

We’ve lost the signals of credibility.

Some time ago we reported on the impact of digital conditions in the marketplace and instantaneous access to anything you want to know. This manifests as ‘anything that can be known will be known’ – hence every company now resides in a glass house. This is an outcome of pervasive social and digital communication and dramatically increased scrutiny of how brands and businesses operate. Daily we are confronted with outed fraudulent practices, misinformation and less than genuine product representations, mislabeling, omissions, recalls, investigations, misrepresentations of fact, even indictments — all while messaging perceived as self-reverential brand apple-polishing and brimming with marketing hyperbole falls increasingly on deaf ears.

Toss into this milieu, everyone with a device is now a content creator…and not all content creators (or their motives) are created equally. Today’s digital platforms foster an environment where opinions look like news to our always scanning eye. And those who opine may not be professionally trained, held to or bound by time-honored journalistic practices which have protected the word-consuming public. John Kass, columnist at the Chicago Tribune recently lamented the rush-to-support style of reporting in the Jussie Smollett debacle as evidence of how journalism standards remain vital. He urged reporters to revisit the old but wise axiom of “if your mother loves you, check it out.”

Brand trust heads south.

An outcome of fractures in belief and trust is a shift away from marketing’s traditional tactic of attempted ‘persuasion.’ In this environment, when assertion-based claims are deployed it can breed further contempt. People aren’t buying any of it.

The unintended consequence of always on 24/7 availability of everything about everyone is the rapid spread of information chronicling corporate misfires. The steady drumbeat of ‘caught in the act’ misdeeds subtracts from the consumer’s willingness to trust any voice driven by a profit motive.

  1. In a recent global research study of some 350,000 consumers HAVAS advertising found that consumers would not shed a tear if 77% of the world’s brands were to disappear. So much for the millions invested in building brand equity. If the brand becomes a less relevant commodity in the consumer’s eyes, there’s no deeper meaning or relationship there to be had.

 

  1. Further 58% of advertising and promotion for the world’s 1,800 leading brands is seen as irrelevant. If the communication isn’t constructed around what’s important to the consumer, and is more about the brand’s self-reverential promotion, the disconnect is already embedded in the communications strategy.

 

  1. Of note, brands that are considered truly meaningful to people soared over other businesses on overall impression, purchase intent, advocacy and justification for premium pricing. Meaning, values and purpose are fundamental to earning permission for a relationship. Does a brand have a soul? Apparently one is needed. Those without risk dying on the shelf.

The study concludes: usefulness and delivering on what you say you are may be more important than anything else. What does that tell you? Demonstratingcredibility and taking actions to earn trust are prerequisites to engagement. Transparency is an important path to proven authenticity and belief.

  • The value proposition for truth and honesty goes up daily in proportion to the growing weariness over evidence that some brands operate selfishly at best and dishonestly at worst. What consumers want are brands that listen; that make a priority of working overtime to be relevant and engaged in their lifestyle aspirations. Consumers are resonating to brands that have a soul, stand for something greater than themselves, and see the value of integrity standards and faithfulness to more human values.

There’s equity and opportunity in operating openly. What does the alchemy of advantage look like when the formerly powerful rules of brand command and control that once governed how to go to market no longer apply?

Credible proof in the form of verified and validated claims

Several years ago we were helping a client (Schuman Cheese) in the cheese industry to mitigate rampant fraud, adulteration and mislabeling in their category. A significant percentage of the Italian cheese business in the U.S. was adulterated with lesser ingredients to protect profit margins. To help solve the challenge, we developed and launched the first trust mark in the cheese industry. The True Cheese seal we created would appear on product packaging to signal the product inside meets or exceeds the standard of identify for the type of cheese, and that the ingredient label is indeed truthful.

Outside testing of products bearing the seal would be done randomly and unannounced by sampling retail products from store shelves – the same products consumers buy. Tests performed by a respected outside third-party laboratory confirmed adherence to the code of Federal regulation and findings were published.

When we launched it was a big media story – about fake Parmesan cheese – that went viral in 72 hours and got sufficient traction in popular culture to prompt the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to feature an entire segment on the adulterated Parmesan cheese development.

Important to note that retailers resonated to the verified trust approach and believed they were better off to stock the real thing than take chances with something that might not be.

What’s the story you’re telling?

Consumers want the truth but understandably are reticent to accept company assertions at face value. Hence the incredible surge of interest in Transparency.

Being transparent means you allow consumers to observe for themselves what goes on behind the corporate curtain in product creation and ingredient sourcing.

Trust marks and seals are shorthand for validation. Standards and testing organizations like NSF.org are gaining traction as companies in food, beverage and lifestyle categories increasingly look for ways to credibly prove the quality story embedded in their products.

Recently Organic Valley and Maple Hill jointly announced the “Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program” to address misleading labeling in the grass-fed dairy products marketplace. The program, unlike others in the organic category, requires a full supply chain verification before qualifying to use the mark.

The strategic linkage in these validation programs and others we predict will come, is recognition that trust is vital to consumers and that assertions aren’t good enough to secure belief. Transparency’s call for openness and clarity, for access and demonstration to be brought to life through various techniques aimed at letting consumers, experts and media in the tent to see for themselves what brands hope they will recognize as truth.

Blockchain to digitize honesty

Perhaps the most significant development to come in the quest for verifiable trust is the advancement of digital solutions that are essentially tamperproof. Blockchain’s great promise is digital ledgers and contracts supported by the deployment of sensors and scanners — and backed by algorithms that monitor and validate every step from the soil to the store. Truth tech that will prove the tomato’s organic and heirloom heritage, its cultivation and harvest, its safe handling and freshness from the ground to store shelf.

Imagine the marketing opportunity that awaits for digitally verified trust… Emergent is following the development of Blockchain technology and is studying its evolution as we seek to stay ahead of Transparency strategies for our clients.

Where are you on the curve to provide these proof points in your marketing strategy?

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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