Posts tagged "storytelling"

The new marketing paradox: belief over benefit

October 18th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “The new marketing paradox: belief over benefit”

Values even more powerful than product story

Every brand in the food and beverage universe is looking for advantage and traction in a business environment that tends to reward the unique and disruptive. What might be most telling about the shifts in consumer behaviors today, is the emergence of belief, purpose and mission as powerful platforms that connect brands with consumers.

Time to bare your soul

Since the dawn of the modern marketing and communications era, brands have been preoccupied with features and benefits. Said more simply: a laser focus on the product and its attributes. Why not, after all that’s why companies exist, right? To make a superior product and convey all of the inspiration that goes on inside it?

Except that with the rise in technology and the fall of barriers-to-entry in virtually every category have wrung out the ability to truly stand tall and alone on the mountain of superiority. Parity in virtually every category is a thing driven by tech advances that allow nearly everyone to come within shooting distance of each other on recipe, ingredients, formulation, design and related benefits. There are exceptions to this, but not a ton of them.

Sameness is a significant challenge, because despite claims to the contrary smart and adroit, informed consumers see through the marketing haze to understand that pound for pound many brands are interchangeable on the basis of product ingredients and creation alone.

Instead competition has moved now to a battle of beliefs, meaning and higher purpose. Consumers want to know what you stand for, what purpose you bring in concert with the thing you make.

Nike pounds belief and it shakes their category

The campaign around Colin Kaepernick is more Say It than Just Do It. “Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything,” is the clarion call of our age. Whether or not you side with Kaepernick on his politics, his sacrificial stand on principle serves to put his beliefs squarely on the marketing chin. Nike celebrates the outsized commitment of this fearlessness and resolve. So what does that have to do with running shoes? Everything.

  • Consumers resonate to brands that espouse a point of view and work to enable an overwhelming desire to be part of something that is greater than themselves.

Purpose, meaning and values represent an evolution of marketing best practices — as the message moves closer to honoring the greater good than just the goods themselves.

This doesn’t imply that product communication is gone or will ever evaporate. Rather it means that higher purpose gains a pole position as an essential ingredient in the go-to-market gameplan.

As we’ve said before here at Emergent, if your company were to disappear tomorrow from the face of the earth, what would be missing from the world that people would truly miss? You can’t answer that by saying your investors and shareholders would be unhappy.

Adding value beyond the product

The health and wellness of people is an important thing. It transcends the ordinary trope of marketing as ‘please buy my product’ and places it in the rarefied air of being authentically helpful to people beyond the sale.

Here’s the irony: the degree to which brands can embrace a higher calling and become enablers of lifestyle aspirations, the more successful they will be in earning trust and permission for a consumer relationship.

To do this however, requires a more enlightened point of view about why the business exists and what it’s designed to accomplish. The goal of greater sales growth is served by emphasizing not just the sale but also a package of values that acknowledges people aren’t just walking wallets.

The Path to Higher Purpose

This is not about philanthropy and it is harder than it looks. In fact, hard enough that we have designed an entire process called Brand Sustainability Analysis to help guide a brand towards discovery or refinement of its deeper meaning.

  • Consumer insight becomes a driver to help success breakout for the very simple reason that purpose must be based on a visceral understanding of the consumer’s hopes, dreams, aspirations and concerns.

The goal is to seek alignment with these interests and the brand so it can become an advisor and guide on the pathway consumers want to follow. Health and wellness is one of those important journeys that brands should support.

The Courageous Marketer

The challenge here is the break with tradition. Features and benefit have been a default mechanism grinding the wheels of marketing for eons. We make it, we love what we make, and we sell it. To be sure. However, when trust in brands and business is at an all-time low and engagement is entirely in the hands of consumers, a different approach is required — one that will probably feel counterintuitive at first.

However once discovered and embraced, higher purpose and mission can galvanize an organization to bring focus and clarity to virtually every corner of the operation. Messaging takes on a more useful tone as the organization works to genuinely improve their users’ lives. Storytelling here immediately gets more powerful and impactful because it’s also more relevant.

Marketing no longer looks like marketing. It doesn’t walk, talk and look like a sales pitch. In doing so, trust can be cultivated. These days trust may be the most important attribute your brand can work to own. The beauty here is in the uniqueness and differentiation this path will provide.

It will require courage, but nothing worth doing can be done without it.

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

 

 

 

 

 

GENERATION ZEITGEIST – brands and social politics merge

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

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

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

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

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

Voting with their dollars

According to a recent study by DoSomething.org:

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

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

Consumerism and the channel for change

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

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

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

Higher Purpose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What flag are you waving?

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

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

How to get the very best from your agency partners

April 27th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, Emergent Column, Insight, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “How to get the very best from your agency partners”

What do good clients do?

Marketing isn’t easy. It’s tough and intellectually demanding. It requires an integrated understanding of product and brand strategy, coalesced with consumer insight and served in a warm basket of relevant creative, business-building solutions.

  • There’s really no way to do this well without both parties getting deeply involved in the work.

Unless of course, the goal is just to mark time and fill slots for a la carte communications tactics across a spectrum of expected “support tools” identified in a marketing plan.

On the other hand, if the goal of engaging an agency in the first place is transformative business results then the aforementioned collaborative effort is mission critical.

So what’s the alchemy that governs whether or not this kind of client/agency collaborative thinking occurs? What’s required in the relationship dynamic that makes for fertile ground in delivering out-sized outcomes?

Here it is, in a word: partnership. The truly successful agency and client relationships perform optimally because of aligned interests and goals. But what does that word partner really mean?

  • It begins as a unique way of thinking and behaving with your agency allies that springs from a foundation of trust and inclusion: “yes, we’re in this together.”

For context you can look at the flip side. The opposite of partner might be vendor: an outside supplier cost center to be managed and controlled; confined to a set of stay-in-your-lane guardrails and vertical silo thinking. A fulfillment cog in the marketing wheel to deliver a communications tactic, be it PR, advertising, social media, content or the like. Absence of genuine client/agency trust equates to “relationships” that are governed financially with one-sided agendas (spend as little as possible) and keeping agencies at a ‘do your job’ distance.

The true value of an agency partner

Good agencies are an amalgam of consultant and guide, business strategist, creative thinker, an outside resource devoted to marketing, strategy and communication across a spectrum of businesses and categories.

Better firms are also an elite think tank of communication insight experts. The best of them see a client’s business challenges holistically and not just as a place to apply artistic skill sets in creating engaging campaigns – as if the goal of the ad agency is just making another ad, or the PR firm slating another media interview – rather than their full engagement in creating a strategic solution to address the client’s need or problem in whatever form that might take.

But to really gain the most of a mutual investment, a relationship a true partnership must be symbiotic, with shared wins and benefits.

What do agencies want?

  • Clients that bring them all the way in and share every relevant detail of how their business operates and the challenges they face. Thus, providing enough visibility to information so an agency can truly serve as a trusted and entrusted advisor.
  • Clients should openly ask for counsel, both informative and challenging. Those who overtly say – “we want your best advice, your best ideas at all times. We want your honesty, too, when you think we’re not making a good decision.”
  • Clients who recognize that agencies are businesses too, and deserve to make a reasonable profit from the relationship. This manifests usually as a declaration from the client early in a new assignment: “we want our account to be a profitable one in your company and in return we ask for the very best of your experienced minds engaged to help meet our business goals and solve our problems.”
  • Clients who routinely ask their agencies to weigh in on challenging issues whether they be operational, R&D, cultural, financial or marketing; these are the very best clients because it’s so exceptional when it happens. These clients recognize the breadth, experience and value of agencies that often come equipped with prior experience where similar challenges have been solved successfully. Music to agency ears is the sweet song of trust and respect these requests imply.

Agency obligations

Superior athletes reach for the very best every time they take the field. So, too, agencies have to bring their “A” game everyday. There’s no way to do that unless you become invested in and are passionate about the client’s business. If the agency is operating with the client’s needs and best interests in mind, this will be evident in the daily effort, responsiveness and program outcomes.

  • If the agency sees client work simply as a financial management proposition, then the focus will be on deliverables within budgets, management of staff time to this agenda, and a quick move to ring the alarm bell if work goes out of scope. Nothing wrong with disciplined business management, but if the culture is primarily about managing for profit rather than adding value to the client relationship, the former will subtract from the latter.
  • So for agencies, the partnership begins with making the client’s business a continuing, ongoing study: evaluating and tracking the competitive environment, trade media, and other sources of business intelligence. The more you know the better this gets. It’s as if the client’s business is your own and thus worthy of the attention this priority will receive.
  • This ongoing commitment should be delivered in an envelope of respect for the superior knowledge clients possess of their own business. At times, in the name of leadership, agencies can get off track into “my way” land, based on we-know-best thinking. This form of arrogance usually ends in disintegration of trust and has no place in the mutual respect universe. Disagreement is ok and expected. Brinksmanship, though, is no way to build a mutually beneficial relationship.

Humanity – the glue that binds

When there’s belief that people from both camps are operating in mutual best interest, then agency and client combinations will work optimally. Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, business decisions are made emotionally not rationally. It is the human condition.

We sense almost immediately when people are genuine, when we like each other, when we’re being honest and open. Life is short, and thus fit and chemistry matter. The kind of fit that occurs when people think highly of each other and actively work to see things from the other’s point of view.

So optimally, a good dose of values, integrity and empathy becomes the daily vitamin all involved in the client/agency partnership ingest to keep the mission focused on success all the way round.

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.

Home cooked meals

Kitchen Commanders Hold Reign

April 20th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, grocery e-commerce, shopper behavior 0 comments on “Kitchen Commanders Hold Reign”

Mining the resurgence of scratch cooking

The kitchen is mounting a serious popularity comeback as consumers increasingly opt for meals at home over meals cooked somewhere else. While digital grocery buying is on the rise, the net outcome of what’s purchased, regardless of shopping channel, ends up sooner or later in a sauté pan on a cooktop.

Yes, it’s true in our online, connected world – in five to seven years, and maybe sooner – 70 percent of consumers will be purchasing food and beverage products online. That ladders up to more than $100 billion in transactions by 2022, according to Nielsen Digital Imperatives report.

  • Of note: we’ve already arrived at the end of borders, boundaries and lanes in channel shopping behaviors. Omni-channel shopping is simply a reflection of the increased comfort level with buying fresh and perishable foods online – the last remaining barrier to crumble in favor of e-commerce growth. What lies ahead is the demand for fluid, seamless shopping experiences as needs and preferences move from mobile ordering to in-store exploration, from delivery to squeezing your own tomatoes – all inter-changeably.

Whether brick and mortar food retail is optimally positioned for this reality is unclear. What is crystal clear, however, is a shift in supermarket business models from selling e-commerce friendly boxes, cans and bags off shelves at velocity, to answering preferences for navigating the perimeter fresh grocery departments. This is where consumers increasingly labor to solve real-time meal and menu needs using ingredients they expect to cook. Shop at 5 pm and eat acquired food at 7pm.

Adventures in culinary experience – at home

According to The Hartman Group’s “Transformation of the American Meal” report, seven out of 10 consumers currently eat scratch prepared meals at home. “Americans tend to agree that the best meal – the healthiest, tastiest and most emotionally satisfying is a freshly cooked homemade meal,” reports Hartman.

This makes absolute sense:

  1. Fresh, real foods are seen as healthier and higher quality. These items involve cooking.
  2. People want more control over ingredient quality, preparations and portion sizes; this includes seasoning and sweetening decisions.
  3. The emergence of meal kits also helps simplify the menu decision and the cooking process with partially prepped ingredients.
  4. Popularity of cooking shows and food websites/blogs, reveals the growing fascination with creativity and learning in food preparation and skills development.

Cooking is back with a vengeance. Scratch cooking behaviors will vary in intensity and commitment from heat-to-eat prepared meals to creating an entire menu from whole foods. Somewhere in the popular middle are meal recipes that combine fresh food ingredients with some packaged or pre-made items such as pasta, stocks and baked goods.

However you slice it or dice it, this is a bona-fied banquet of opportunities for food and beverage companies wanting to forge deeper relationships with consumers. How? By helping enable their passions in the kitchen.

While food choices and possibilities are more abundant than ever before, time and energy continue to grow scarce. With time scarcity is the increased need for guidance, ideas and support in various forms that help consumers achieve their culinary passions (if not their day-to-day meal preparation needs) with minimal frustration.

The friction for consumers grows in tandem with increased shopping trip frequency for smaller, meal-focused baskets. People don’t really know what they’re having for dinner, the most considered and mentally taxing meal of the day, before it’s just about time to sit down at the dinner table. What’s emerged is just-in-time food shopping aimed at creating a menu. Food retailers need to solve the meal trip phenomenon with more convenient in-store experiences (grab and go kits). Navigating a 60,000 square foot store for five to seven items will increasingly drive food shoppers online for easier click and collect or shortened delivery windows.

We know that brand building in the consumer-control era begins first with empathy for shopper needs and interests. If a food or beverage brand wants to forge a deeper relationship, it will be founded on becoming more meaningful and valuable. It’s clear the opportunity here is to help solve these recurring ‘what’s for dinner’ challenges.

The cornucopia of food brand marketing solutions:

  • Meal ideas, menus and shopping lists
  • Assistance with recipes, preparation steps and enhancing cooking skills
  • Creating or enabling in-store culinary events and tasting experiences
  • Building social channel communities of like-minded home cooks sharing ideas, experiences, hacks and recipes
  • Creating culinary clubs and educational experiences to inspire new food adventures and experimentation
  • Marrying kitchen tools with the food to enhance reliable, optimal outcomes –especially in baking where precision is essential
  • Considering culinary lifestyle marketing strategies that surround the consumer in their areas of interest and passion from health and wellness to global taste exploration

Message and content creation opportunities here are virtually boundless. The opportunity to be relevant and valuable is compelling. But to be sure, this is one of those moments when brand voice and authenticity will ultimately separate the winners from the posers.

If your organization lacks a fundamental passion for food and culinary experience, it’s doubly hard to bring relevance and proper context to marketing communication. Consumers are amply able to identify the genuine from the artificial.

If your organization breathes the love of food and food experience, it will manifest in the quality of communication that drives brand value and engagement levels. Consumers will reward food brands that align with their needs by opting in to user communities.

It is, indeed, the Golden Era of food marketing.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pet food transparency

The Pet Food Business Dilemma: Obfuscate

April 10th, 2018 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “The Pet Food Business Dilemma: Obfuscate”

When communication is intentionally blurry, muddled, cloudy and befogged

It’s not often I get to employ a $50 word in a story, but in this case obfuscate may be the perfect verb to characterize the occasional disconnect from a pet parent’s desire for more clarity and transparency in how pet food is presented, and the sometimes confounding and less straight-forward information actually served.

Is it crystal clear to you?

Dirty water makes it hard to see the bottom of the pond.

In the eyes of the consumer, pet food is a leap-of-faith business. Brands make assertions about the quality, origins and freshness of ingredients; the correct and superior combinations of real food ingredients that ultimately make a difference in the health and wellbeing of four-legged family members.

  • What’s in the little brown kibble pellet? We’re required to believe it contains fresh, deboned chicken, wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef or vegetables, fruits and other human-friendly whole food ingredients. We also know that animals can’t talk and consumers aren’t food scientists. So trust and faith becomes the currency that defines brand relationships.

Transparency means transparent.

When at the butcher counter in your food store you can see the steak, its marbling, height and color. You can make judgments on its quality before buying. In contrast, kibble or canned pet food from brand to brand looks roughly the same and so verification of food quality by visual examination is not possible. Casting statements on ingredient decks can be confounding to many but the most ardent students of pet food ingredient terminology; those able to translate code for higher-quality proteins from something less than that.

Transparent behaviors in this industry couldn’t be more important. The frequency of pet food recalls serve as the reminder for vigilance…and can breed consumer skepticism. This uncertainty is amplified against an evolving food culture where people today want to know the backstory behind the foods they buy for themselves and for their pets. How did this new-found interest in ingredient transparency come to pass?

The desire for transparency is a cultural phenomenon that got traction when people fully connected the dots between the quality of the food they eat and the quality of their lives.

They expect no less of their pets’ diets.

If ingredients are sourced from local farms and ranches, brands should show and tell this story. If there are standards on the quality of ingredients to be used, they should be stated clearly and simply so it can be understood by anyone. The curtain raised on how manufacturing is done, what form ingredients take, how and why they are combined – the trail from farm to can or bag that helps belief materialize in a trusted, credible way.

  • If belief is to be achieved in what is essentially a faith-based business, truth must be multiplied by transparency and clarity. People want to see all the way to the bottom of the supply chain pond, so to speak. The sum of these interactions and conversations is to validate, rather than obfuscate, what we want people to know and believe about pet food.

Wordplay vs. Openness

The core essence of trust creation is the deployment of words and what they mean. When honesty and integrity rule the relationship with pet parents, then parsing definitions to create more palatable descriptions – while obfuscating the truth – is at best misguided and not based in sound strategy…and at worst is disingenuous.

Pets are no longer owned assets to be maintained. They are family. The impact of quality nutrition of their health and welfare is a real thing. Moreover, when answering what the customer wants, it is this: “healthy, high quality food choices, just like I prefer for myself and my family.”

  • So how are honesty and openness best served when the form the product takes leaves no trace of evidence on which to base judgments? Pull back the curtain and tell the story, fully, completely, in video where words and pictures combine to let everyone in to see for themselves.

Outside independent verification testing and deployment of Blockchain technology may close this loop fully to provide the assurance people want. But importantly, what’s embedded in your brand values and mission will inform how all this goes, and whether or not crystal clear is the true call to action for company behaviors.

What’s at stake?

Trust and brand reputation.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Relevance Drives the Recipe for Social Media Results

February 13th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Public Relations, Social community, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Relevance Drives the Recipe for Social Media Results”

Social media has emerged as one of the most important channels of communication for brands and retailers – in no small measure due to high levels of consumer participation on these platforms and in these communities. Fueling consumer traction is an opportunity for two-way communication; a dialogue rather than monologue. It is a more human and interactive environment – and thus adds value to the consumer’s life and experience by providing unique ways to engage.

  • Of note, social media participation accounts for at least one of every three minutes people spend on the Internet, according to Global Web Index.

We already know that consumers prefer to get information, guidance and ideas from voices they deem trustworthy. Social channels help fill this need as a trusted source, especially when the proportion of content generated by consumers themselves (trusted) is correctly balanced with posts created by brands (not as trusted).

The question we often get from clients starts with how to extract optimal effectiveness from social channel program investments.

Here’s the Emergent recipe for improved social channel results: 

1. Competing successfully for social attention through relevance and utility

Rule number one: social is not a conventional media platform for pushing out self-promotional sales messaging. The great divide between social channels contributing measurably to growth vs. not, begins with the relevance of content and value to the consumer’s lifestyle passions and interests. Social discourse is not advertising.

  • While this may seem intuitively obvious, we observe any number of brands using social as a traditional media play, dominated by product promotion and transactional messages.

The first step towards social media engagement success begins with mining insight into the lives and aspirations of the audiences brands wish to serve. Ideally consumer insight research is part of the overall marketing plan and can be deployed to gain a better understanding of what a brand’s core users care about. Better to truly know them rather than base the messaging map on hunches and assumptions.

From this baseline insight, we build personas – detailed descriptions of consumer segments that make up the population of users either existing or desired. The personas then inform content strategy and help design a community experience founded on relevance, and added meaning to consumer interests and lifestyle.

This approach helps guide community managers to optimize the entire social encounter around core consumers, and in doing so, feeds engagement levels and social’s holy grail – content sharing. When content delivers intrinsic value to the audience, often in an entertaining way, it gets shared and thus multiplies reach.

2. High quality content wins, every time

According to user generated content platform company Stackla, 86 percent of consumers say authenticity matters in deciding what brands they like and prefer. Additionally, 60 percent of consumers believe content from a friend or family member will influence their purchase decisions. Comparatively only 23 percent say they are influenced by content from a celebrity.

User generated content (UGC) is another key component – again founded on the fundamental construct of trusted source. UGC should be embedded as an important component of social strategy, bringing in the voices of real people and their stories as a powerful foundation of validation and proof.

  • Consumers believe each other’s experiences with a brand first and foremost; more so than self-promotional content from a brand asserting the benefits and performance of its products and services.

Balanced content strategy enhances engagement. As such, to enhance overall content effectiveness, social channel management should address an apportioned mix of:

  • User generated
  • Brand created
  • Curated third-party content

Within this content eco-system is a formula we follow to plan content on a calendar basis. We recommend that roughly 80 percent of the content track message, topic and tone that are inspirational, educational, useful or fun. The remaining 20 percent of the calendar can be devoted to brand promotions and offers.

Of note, we know that quality content is far more important than quantity in social channels. It simply takes more thought, time and effort to create material that truly benefits other people and adds value to them than inconsequential frequency-fillers. Even when aggregating user generated material it’s important to curate the posts that are interesting and informative from anything that’s not offering a coaching or relevant entertaining moment.

3. Content creation guidance

HubSpot reports that visual content is 40 times more likely to be shared on social media than other forms. This data tracks with evidence that Blog posts using photos garner much higher readership than those without. This helps explain the out-sized popularity of Instagram – especially for food and healthy lifestyle brands.

In general:

  • Show readers the lifestyle they aspire to live. If its outdoor adventure they crave, then you know where to go. If they’re kitchen commanders, help build their culinary adventure.
  • Reveal the emotion under your product story. The devotion of craftsman to craftsmanship is an emotional journey people want to take. Talk about your commitments, standards and beliefs.
  • Inject some art into product photography. Make your photos more interesting by thinking creatively about the setting and how to imbue the image with greater meaning or emotion.

4. Influencers and influencing

At the start of this post we described the anchor from which all audience blessings flow: trust. Trusted voices are the key component to securing belief among consumers. Today’s consumers are understandably skeptical, and their ‘trust threshold’ is that much higher.

Brands are no longer free to simply assert claims of superiority or better experience. Other respected sources need to corroborate what you hope to convey. Influencers are a part of this strategy.

Bloggers and third-party subject matter experts add another dimension to content plans, bringing borrowed equity and credibility to the table. So it makes sense to build and nurture a universe of relevant influencers in your category. These voices can help verify what you want people to believe, while expanding the reach of your message through their networks.

The 50 or so Bloggers who are currently part of our Emergent Media Network operate in this role as added credible voices and authorities. Our obligation in this symbiotic relationship is to bring useful, relevant, well-researched and credible story ideas to the table. Quality in equals quality out.

Social strategy is, by definition, an integration of content marketing, community building, nurturing and the aggregation of user-generated stories. When built around insight about the audience and their needs, with content they care about, an opportunity exists to earn permission for a deeper relationship – based on mutual respect and trust.

Social is, well, social.

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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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