Posts tagged "storytelling"

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.

 

 

 

You are now selling sand in the desert…

February 22nd, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, e-commerce, Healthy lifestyle, Higher Purpose, shopper behavior, storytelling 0 comments on “You are now selling sand in the desert…”

Navigating the Impact of Infinite Choice

If ever there were a time when sound, informed strategy mattered to the success and outcomes of food, beverage and lifestyle marketing this would be it. Like it or not we’ve entered the era of nearly infinite consumer choices in a media environment of almost countless channels. This requires a new marketing formula.

Thinking at scale today takes on a completely different meaning when consumers are presented with so many options within a click to buy environment. Thus, how should you design for success when you’re ultimately selling sand in the desert? We will answer that question here.

Left to its natural course, food marketing tends to gravitate towards the vanilla middle – an effort to appeal to the broadest possible audience – and in working to address everyone, you end up mattering to no one. When the options are legion this can quickly turn marketing and communication investments into a moonshot without navigation – the hit (or more often miss) driven by luck more than intention.

At various times we’ve written about the importance of putting consumers at the center of strategic planning. Now, we further qualify that statement by saying – in order for a strategic marketing plan to be measurably effective, putting consumers at the center of planning is table stakes. And determining who that consumer is will require even tougher decisions to prune and refocus the definition of the cohort you wish to serve. Why? Because the 80/20 rule is in full force as the vast majority of volume and profit will come from a smaller segment of committed advocates – assuming you’ve planned for relevance to a community of potential believers.

This is the most compelling argument ever for – different

Let’s start with a foundational understanding that the brand must be perceived as special, unique, useful and valuable before there’s any shot at being memorable. No one has the time or mental bandwidth any longer to assess the vast array of options in any given product category. So how do you resolve the reality of inexhaustible choice?

You must start with the intended core user and work backwards. Seth Godin made a cogent observation in his recent book “This is Marketing” when he described the effort behind what may be the most powerful TV commercial ever made – Apple’s “1984” spot for the launch of the Macintosh. The spot aired during the most watched American sports program on earth, the Super Bowl. The majority of viewers would not have understood or probably cared about what Apple was trying to convey in its dark Orwellian mini-movie.

The lesson: it didn’t have to register with everyone to be successful. Godin observed the spot only needed to touch a million savvy creators and early adopters who picked up that Apple was up to something revolutionary. The rest of the viewers didn’t matter, and indeed the rest is history given Apple’s ascent to brand superstardom. Whatever the brand, the audience of committed advocates will always remain relatively small.

It is with the small and devoted cohort where effort and outreach needs to be directed. And those investments should come from a concerted endeavor to push hard at the edges of what’s unique and different in your brand proposition. Here’s the question we often evaluate with clients: how can positioning, audience, product formulation, and the character of the brand, be dialed sufficiently to the right or left so that we’re able to create a new category – one that our client can own?

Who is it for and why?

To dial in your position successfully you then have to know who it’s for and why. It follows if you want to have meaningful relationships with consumers, then imbue your brand with greater meaning. But for whom?

That’s a big question that requires some rigor to answer correctly. Who is going to quickly respond and be drawn like a magnet to your product proposition? Once defined, all eyes and energy must be directed to fully understanding their hopes, dreams, needs and aspirations. Your marketing strategy is then fine-tuned to align with that insight, opening the door for the brand to become an enabler of their wants and needs – in a voice that’s relevant to them – becoming a reflection of their wants and how they’d like the world to perceive their beliefs and priorities.

This is important because purchases now are largely symbolic representations of what people want others to know about what they believe in and think.

The hard truth about marketing

Of note, we’re doing business in an environment overflowing with self-assured claims, assertions and hype. Here’s the difficult pill to swallow: people don’t believe any of it. The counterintuitive basis of effective marketing today is to not look, talk and walk like marketing.

That said, there is a reflexive habit in strategic planning to navel gaze. To focus on the craft of what’s been created, formulated or built. Here at Emergent we totally understand that spirit and where it comes from, after all most brands are justifiably proud of the considerable effort they invest in technology, quality and improvement. But this also sets the table for potential marketing disconnect.

You are not selling a food or beverage

In the same vein as pet food is sold to humans and not to dogs or cats, it isn’t the product that people are buying. What you are actually marketing are feelings, connection, desire, happiness and status. Not stuff, not items, not things in boxes or bags. Not chips or salsa or soup. People are buying a feeling and expression of their status and belief system.

So then, what’s the path to creating a marketing plan with this insight embedded all the way through? It will require all of the hands on the marketing tiller to be empathetic anthropologists of what the biggest brand fans are about.

Here are some areas to focus on strategically:

  • What your audience wants, not what you want to tell them
  • What they believe
  • What they need
  • What they aspire to
  • What story would emotionally resonate with them

The more you invest in seeking to understand, the more likely you are to land on the big idea (one that immediately influences the behavior of the business) and create a voice for the brand that is engaging and is shared. When you seek to improve the lives of your best customers, you earn permission for a relationship with them and the marketing you create comes across less like a transactional maneuver.

If you think this way, it will flow downstream to impact how the business operates. We already know that what the brand does is more powerful than what it says, so there’s an opportunity built into the recipe for authenticity.

Brand trust continues to decline, so the game plan must be to build it, earn it, cultivate it. The reason transparency has ascended to ever higher importance is precisely because people don’t accept anything on face value. Claims and assertions are exactly that. When you verify, validate and reveal the product creation story by letting consumers all the way in, it fosters belief and trust.

10 components of successful marketing  –

  1. You must push for positioning that’s truly unique, different and helps create a new category
  2. Refocus and narrow your audience definition to the smaller community of ardent fans
  3. Devote your insight research to this audience and discover how the brand sits in service of their lifestyle needs
  4. Become an enabler of their wants and desires
  5. Recognize you’re not selling a product but an emotional connection
  6. Activate brand experiences because behaviors speak louder than words
  7. Know that being relevant is more important than being superior
  8. Authentic storytelling to this audience is the path to engagement
  9. Trust is everything…you must earn it
  10. Transparency is the precursor to creating trust

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 put the consumer at the center of your marketing

January 30th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, change, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, storytelling 0 comments on “How to put the consumer at the center of your marketing”

Is it inward contemplation or outward relevance that drives growth?

Brand navel-gazing is exactly that – an inward preoccupation with your product and business advantages. With consumers increasingly objecting to anything that looks and sounds like overt product selling, is it time for a new model?

The historical approach tends to repeat…

When I started in the agency business in Seattle, my first formal account assignment was a regional packaged foods company named Nalley’s. I was to take over the account for a senior agency team member who was moving over to handle a new client. During our first formal visit the hand-off occurred, and I found myself meeting with the four brand managers who ran chips/snacks, canned meals, dressings and pickles, respectively.

At each meeting the client’s marketing executive provided a brief of the business, describing the strategic features, benefits and advantages of their products over competitive offerings. Of course my job was to creatively, persuasively communicate those points of difference to consumers.

This feature and benefit briefing was a staple of how things operated in almost every business category the agency served.With virtually every client there was a laser-like focus on recipes, technologies and operational achievements. As such, plans would always spring from this information, often matched to various forms of testing designed to determine which claim would be most memorable and compelling to the target audience.

In the business of building businesses, companies expend great effort to refine their products and operations, as they should. The goal of course is to stay ahead of the competition and achieve some measure of superiority and differentiation. The marketing team looks to these achievements as evidence of compelling reasons for selecting and buying.

  • This system, which is pervasive across so many divergent business categories, tends to reinforce a point of view that marketing is on the right track when it focuses the product features/benefits; so carefully created and packaged.

After all, an organization’s systems and activities are engaged in constant improvement and refinement so this effort tends to inform the strategy!

Executives believe this data ladders up to the formula for driving growth and expansion. More specifically, when an editorial story or advertisement messages around these advantages, benefits and formulation improvements, we reflexively believe this argument forms the basis of brand preference.

We know more today about how people actually operate

Except for one thing. We’ve learned people are not analytical, fact-based decision- making machines. Humans are irrational creatures driven instead by feelings and emotions, often without self-awareness that this is how everyone behaves.

However we like to think of ourselves as logical, thoughtful analysts who carefully consider the facts, weigh the merits and then decide. In reality, we are steered by how we feel in the presence of a brand or business. It is emotion that informs actions. Yet so much of what goes into the crafting of communication is based on analytical backgrounding and introspective messaging.

When I got married 22 years ago, I went from dating to the altar in 12 months. It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made. So, was the move to propose founded on a conscious consideration of the personal pros and cons, the facts of my intended’s upbringing and family history, education and career prospects? Heavens no! It was how I felt about her. I knew in my heart of hearts she was the one. It was a powerful, visceral sense of love, passion, rightness and earnest conviction.

My subconscious brain knew more about the salience and relevance of this relationship than any fact-based roll-up of so-called “features.” In all cases, all of the time it is heart-over-head. We are feeling creatures that think and not the other way around.

How does this manifest in communication?

Emergent’s stellar pet food client, Champion Petfoods, makes some of the finest pet food on earth. You could fill volumes on the details underneath their formulations that ladder up to optimal nutrition for dogs and cats.

It is easy to become pre-occupied with the analytical facts of proteins, vitamins and minerals served in a bowl. We know the anecdotal stories of transformation and change in pets’ lives from eating these foods. The improvements to their health, wellbeing and happiness are far more persuasive through the emotional voices of loving pet parents than any fact-based presentation of formulation and protein ingredient percentages.

Stop focusing inwardly

So what does this mean? In order to achieve consumer engagement we must thoroughly, fully understand the interests and aspirations of those with whom we hope to communicate. We need to get underneath what matters to them and how the client’s brand can operate in making their lives better.

The brand must operate in service of a deeper meaning than just commerce. How can we improve the customer’s life; how do we add value and become an enabler of things they care about?

We must actively mine the emotional turf that resides under what people want and care about. In the case of pets, we know that food quality is linked to a sense of welfare and wellbeing for cats and dogs. The higher quality of food purchased is an expression of how much people love their pet. The emotional grist lies in the relationship and companionship with pets, and a desire that our four-legged family members remain happy and healthy.

Marketers can trumpet statistics on protein contributions and the role of nutritionally dense ingredients to delivering what dogs and cats require. In doing so the brand may have missed the bond, the relationship, and yes, the love being expressed and the importance of this dynamic to happiness.

  • Our actions are influenced by how we feel; how we resonate to the brand and our sense of comfort and trust in it. The facts and figures exist only in support of the emotional narrative.

The litmus test for effectiveness

Here’s how to judge the merits of communications plans and proposals:

First, is there an assessment and review of the consumer – their wants, needs, dreams, aspirations and lifestyle interests? This is what is meant by putting the consumer first – insight on their interests that informs go-to-market strategy.

  1. Question number one: has effort been made to draw linkage between what we know about the consumer and how the brand and business can become a partner and enabler of those lifestyle needs?
  2. Has messaging been constructed around breathing life into emotional cues that hold up a mirror to how the consumer wants the world around them to perceive who and what they are?
  3. Have we looked at the cultural symbols relevant today for what consumers expect and want? Are those symbols showing up in the communication we produce?
  4. Are we creating synergy across all touch points from store to online to package to media to social channel?
  5. Are we tugging on the heartstrings? Are we keyed into the central motivation for why people want things, and the desires they have for a higher quality life?

If we wish to communicate in a way that’s understood and appreciated by the sub-conscious brain it will involve emotional cues. The facts and figures operate as reinforcement for ‘why’ we made a good decision post-purchase.

Moving from brief to resonance

So, instead of marching every marketing conversation down the hall of inwardly focused feature and benefit briefs and documents about technologies and product superiority, we should firstseek to understand the hearts and passions of those we wish to engage.

This is fundamentally a call for more (better) research: the kind that uncovers what makes customers happy; what they seek for fulfillment; where the pain points are; what they aspire to be – and then work creatively to create linkage between what we learn and how the brand is an active participant in achieving those goals.

  • This is how we earn permissionfor a meaningful relationship and how the emotional fabric is knit that leads consumers to brand trust and purchase. The operational and technical savvy is what delivers satisfaction with product experience, and thus powers a repeat purchase.

I get wistful at times thinking if we had known back in the day what we know now about how human beings operate — our strategies would have been much different, probably more powerful and effective.

While we can’t go back in time and make corrections we can carve a new path to victory; one based on putting the consumer at the center of planning strategy. This is harder than it looks because the inward focus on product features and technologies is ingrained in business cultures big and small.

But times have changed and what do we now know?

If you don’t change with the times, you’re probably in trouble.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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