Posts tagged "strategic planning"

Building the Human Brand

Building a More Human Brand

October 19th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Building a More Human Brand”

Time to banish the old marketing playbook

Remember the good old days of command and control, interruption-style marketing and business development strategies? Consumers were viewed as “targets” to be persuaded through repetition and subtle manipulation of their emotions or pocketbook sensibilities.

Vestiges of this way of thinking remain handcuffed to far too many brands that continue pushing feature, benefit and price messages at consumers in both digital and analog channels. Thus, why engagement is increasingly hard to secure. Consumers have become serial avoiders of self-promotional brand outreach as a result. No one likes to be “sold.”

It’s time to stop, reconsider and move on to build more human-centric brands.

Think for a minute about the people you care about in your life. Your family, friends and colleagues. Those closest to you enjoy a special position of value and affection. You’re concerned about their welfare and wellbeing. You make time for them, cherish them and invest in their progress. In short, you care. You express love in words and deeds. You listen. You help. You support and respect them. Moreover, you don’t see those relationships as merely transactional.

Now think about your business behaviors and how customers are viewed and treated. Is it the same? You say well, we’re in business to sell our products. To be sure, but maybe the goal of share and volume glory follows a different path now. One that is built on a model of reciprocity that looks more and more like the valued relationships we have in real life.

Not ‘data points’, they’re human beings

What are the five things your customers want from you?

  1. Inspiration
  2. Advice
  3. Guidance
  4. Education
  5. Entertainment

We have moved from a product focus to content. Are you optimizing the brand communications arsenal for help over hype? Here are three observations that should be considered in developing human-led brand communication.

Utility over cleverness

This may be the toughest consideration of all when viewed through the lens of ad creative traditions. It has been the province of creatives in the agency game to be focused on translating a key product selling proposition into the artful headline or theme. The theory: engagement is achieved through artistic wordsmithing. An artful turn of phrase or catchy tagline is prized as an achievement on the road to being “intrusive” and therefore noticed in the vast sea of message overload.

Times have changed and while great copy is going to be a key driver of engagement, the character and content of the communication is better served through its usefulness rather than pure cleverness alone. Attention is hard to secure. The path to gaining consumer participation is better aided by providing relevant value. That means the message moves closer to serving the consumer’s role as hero of the brand story, in a narrative that is helpful and educational more than self-promotional. It’s about them not us.

Someone is better than everyone

The definition of sound strategy is making tough choices. When the intent is to be all things to all people, the outcome is mattering to no one. It is better to focus on someone rather than everyone. To do that requires sacrifice. It means you select an audience cohort closest to the center of your most ardent user base. Then zero in on what they want and care about. Prune the rest.

In our own experience this played out to great effect when former client Sargento cheese agreed to focus on a consumer segment called The Food Adventurer. This audience of cheese lovers and heavy users care deeply about the quality of ingredients they use. They love to cook, pay attention to culinary media. They are routinely engaged on topics and content that help advance their skills in the kitchen and culinary creativity. By focusing here, Sargento created an opportunity to matter to an engaged audience of food fans, rather than speaking to everyone  (usually defined as moms with kids) across the expanse of the commodity cheese marketplace.

Make a choice, narrow the focus to those who care and are therefore listening.

Inspirational beats transactional

There is a great temptation to assume if you aren’t hitting hard on the product features and benefits, then you’re not selling effectively. But the world has changed. Gaining attention isn’t a math problem of calculating media channels to frequency of message distribution. If the relationship economy is respected, then you understand that winning permission for a conversation depends on following a different set of rules.

  • Your brand voice is built around empathy and care for the passions, interests and concerns of your best customers. You understand that the role of the brand in this relationship is one of guide and coach. Your goal to help them overcome the barriers to their success and fulfillment.

Your brand becomes a source of encouragement and education. Sargento helps the home cook deliver on their passion for creativity in the kitchen. Boom – now we’re talking. Literally. Now we’re actually communicating rather than monologuing. The brand stops barking at people and begins to engage in their community and lifestyle in a useful, valuable way.

When you speak to those in your orbit that you care about, are you selling to them? Pushing self-serving messages at them? No instead you are genuinely listening and helping.

The enlightened brand building of our era begins with injecting humanity into the marketing plan by making consumers the center of it and deciding to earn a relationship based on valuable-ness.

The last word: “Every brand is now a B-corp” – Ana Andjelic, The Sociology of Business

We are in the midst of another evolutionary shift. Consumers care deeply about your values, mission and actions to address social issues like climate impact and sustainability. They care about the impact their buying decision has on the world around them. They have connected the dots between their purchases and a consequence. They want to identify and act on more sustainable choices.

You can help them do that. But be aware that substance and authenticity matter here. Your own sustainability readiness house needs to be in order before invoking solidarity with consumers on these concerns. Sustainability can’t be a message construct floating independently from policies and standards that address the company’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment. There should be clearly expressed targets and actions steps to mitigate those challenges.

Embracing sustainability is yet another way to put the brand “in league” with consumers on a culture imperative issue they care about and expect brands to be part of the solution.

All of this coalesces around one key point: when brands understand that customer relationships these days operate a lot like the kind we have with people we care about, then you understand how the brand should behave and engage in that setting. More empathy, guidance and coaching than promoting. It’s time for the more human brand.

If this guidance strikes a chord as you look towards strategic planning in the year ahead, then let’s start an informal conversation about your concerns and needs. Use this link and let’s talk.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Higher Purpose brand building

How to Build a Higher Purpose Brand

October 12th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “How to Build a Higher Purpose Brand”

“Want to have a more meaningful relationship with your users, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.”

Ten years ago a culture shift reached the tipping point and changed the dynamics of brand building forever. Consumers acquired full control over brand engagement and became serial avoiders of overt self-reverential and promotional marketing outreach. Selling in its traditional form was no longer an effective path to interaction with users. Analytical messaging about brand recipes, ingredients and technology would not be enough to draw consumers close. The path to purchase irrevocably changed.

In the wake of this transformation in how brand-to-consumer relationships are created, emerged a new and more enlightened platform to drive brand marketing effectiveness called Higher Purpose Brand Building.

No longer is the marketing best practices game plan to be grounded solely in promoting product features and benefits. Still as 2022 draws near and strategic planning is in high gear, we still see vestiges of old-school thinking that follows the “if you build it, they will come” marketing methodology. Higher Purpose brand strategy remains underleveraged in CPG and retail categories.

Here we will provide insight into purpose-built brand practices and how best to define this anchoring platform that will positively impact every aspect of how your organization does business and how you communicate in the marketplace.

What happened, why purpose matters

It is the intersection between need and passion where people will find affection and the basis for a relationship with your brand. It is expressed this way because the world has changed and relating to a brand is now fundamentally the same thing as relating to a person.

The digital environment we are doing business in abruptly ended effectiveness of interruption-style marketing. At the same time, consumers evolved as purchasing motivation moved closer to a symbolic act and signaling of what people want the world around them to know they care about, their values and beliefs.

As such sustainable brand relationships are now built on admiration and trust – and that insight, properly executed, can deliver significant financial premiums.

  • Purpose-built brands represent goodwill that can be isolated as a component of business value.
  • They can deliver higher margins, traffic.
  • They also work to reduce the cost of promotion, improving ROI and bottom-line performance.

How? Because real purpose creates the opportunity for transcendence – the state of being admired – where consumers “join” your brand as members, not merely customers.

In order to build a more sustainable brand, you have a responsibility to push added meaning, trust and belief to the forefront of the consumer relationship. Said another way, you have to stand for something important in your users’ lives. A higher purpose defines your business’ true north and reason you exist. It should be a deeper and more lifestyle relevant concept that reaches beyond making or retailing high quality products.

Goes without saying maximizing business growth and profit is not a purpose. A real, human-relevant, and unselfish purpose is a purpose – and in the long run devotion to it will indeed maximize financial outcomes.

How to create a purpose-informed brand

This is an effort to codify your brand’s inner self. It’s vital to invest in this process because the marketing game has shifted completely from command and control (persuasion around overt feature/benefit selling) to the Relationship Building Era.

The goal of higher purpose planning is to anchor your brand in a new and deeper understanding of its mission – and in doing so provide a cohesive guide for all go-to-market tools and strategies.

Mapping brands on the relative strength or absence of Purpose bona fides can help bring added context to evaluating what best practices should look like in the competitive set. Here are four primary conditions that inform where brands might exist on strength of their Purpose plan.

Limited – province of brands that struggle with flat to declining sales, and who command little respect or trust from the consumer.

Reluctant – brands that have limited respect and generate little emotion, but whose pricing strategy or competitive advantage trumps consumer reticence.

Emotional equity – brands that maintain respect in spite of concept limitations, transactional marketing behaviors, higher prices or other competitive disadvantages.

Sustainable – more enlightened businesses that understand brand relationships work on the basis of true, authentic reciprocity and humanity – and are not superficial, opportunistic or purely transactional.

The depth of your brand mission and purpose can range from obvious and somewhat superficial to something altogether deeper and more engaging. To help you strive for the latter consider this basic premise:

  • If your brand were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, would anybody but financially-interested parties truly care? Said more succinctly: is brand advocacy now a more important and relevant goal than loyalty? YES it is.

The further along the ‘help over hype’ continuum the concepts gets, the more transformational. If we’re looking at how best to leverage core purpose, then it will of necessity become the heart of everything your company does, informing marketing, hiring, sourcing, operations and communications.

The primary components of higher purpose thinking include:

Why (does your company and brand exist):

  • We exist to help people ___________________________________________________.

How (you deliver on our mission):

  • We deliver tools, guidance, insight and education to ____________________________.

What (business are you really in):

  • Our company and brand provides ____________________________________________.

Your Brand Stand

Out of the analysis and evaluation of why your business exists and what you stand for comes a statement we refer to as the Brand Stand. It is an anchoring expression of your higher purpose that informs company decisions and behavior. It is remarkable what happens internally when this work is done to create and codify values and beliefs. Employees and other stakeholders rally to the mission.

The principles and purpose become an anchoring lever for the organization and immediately changes the dynamics of marketplace communication to create more powerful and impactful social, earned, paid and content strategies. Your brand voice acquires more impact and emotional gravitas. You are giving users something to believe in, a deeper meaning and reason to be engaged with you.

As stated earlier the outcome of this is greater efficiency and effectiveness for your investments in brand marketing because it is not dependent on tonnage of media spend.

You are no longer competing on technical specsmanship which is more difficult to sustain and defend, instead your brand’s value proposition rises above legacy category tropes.

If you are interested in learning more about Higher Purpose Brand Building you can access our guide here: https://bit.ly/HigherPurposeStrategies

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Relevancy drives business growth

Relevancy is Key to Your Brand’s Traction

September 30th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Experience, Emotional relevance, engagement, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Social proof, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Relevancy is Key to Your Brand’s Traction”

Strengthening your cultural connections is vital to sustainable growth

Why does brand relevance matter so greatly to your 2022 business results? Because it is within relevancy’s sphere of influence that consumers discover both their interest in your brand and a reason to buy. You may believe your product stands resolutely on its own merits – formulation and attributes and all. To a degree it certainly does, however your brand doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Powerful external forces are at work driving consumer behaviors and preferences. More than ever, people are influenced by:

  • What is popular
  • What is socially agree-able
  • What is on trend culturally

Where does your brand sit in relationship to popular food culture? Current issues and values pressing on the food industry’s future? Brand relevancy is connected to and associated with current culture cues and the symbolism that surrounds it.

Here is our guide to relevance and connection

Brand relationships continue to look more and more like those of the human variety. You are no longer just selling a product. You are marketing deeper meaning, values and beliefs attached to strong cultural influences. Better connections here help more salient brands rise while others less present in these shifting conditions may experience a corresponding decline in their value proposition.

Is your brand engaging in the world around it?

We are witnessing a profound sea change in the path to purchase as consumers look to brands for trusted sustainability stories and tangible efforts to address heightened awareness of a relationship between food/beverage choices and climate impact. Health, wellness and sustainability are key associations for modern food, beverage and lifestyle culture trends.

Is your brand viewed as a positive influence?

What specific actions, policies, behaviors, standards and commitments is your brand making to be at the forefront of these key issues that now dominate the cultural conversation? Is your brand voice up to date, participating in this discourse with credibility and referencing tangible efforts to meet wellness and sustainability expectations?

Is your brand a contributor to users’ lives?

As stated earlier, brand relationships look a lot these days like interactions we have with the people we care about. Thus, why enlightened marketers understand their future is founded on reciprocity. Brands must make a real effort to help consumers overcome barriers, succeed and grow on their life journeys. How is your brand operating as a coach and guide to help users achieve their passions and desires?

Designing for enhanced relevance

Relevancy is achieved through a creative, appealing mix of attitude, behaviors (actions speak louder than words) and appearance. What’s required here is an innovative reappraisal of your brand identity, visuals, voice, actions and symbolism that should be in sync with the cultural dialogue going on right now.

Your brand is the fabric and tether to deeper meaning that provides consumers with an anchor of belief and emotional resonance. Here’s the mix of ingredients that help you dial in brand relevance.

  • How your brand interacts with popular culture – Your strategic game plan
  • Articulating what your brand stands for – Your values and beliefs
  • Why your brand exists – Defining your brand Higher Purpose
  • Engaging where your users spend their time – Your interactions with their micro-communities of influence

Here are three steps you can take right now to bring this thinking to your strategic plans.

  1. Consumer lifestyle insight

You’re interacting with humans not data points. What do you understand about their lifestyle aspirations, needs, wants and concerns? If sustainability is a cultural imperative now, do you know what areas of sustainability readiness they care about the most? Without a foundation of insight into their lives, it’s nearly impossible to find alignment and relevance with who they are, what they want and what they believe.

2. The customer experience journey

Based on a more granular understanding of your users’ aspirations, how should your brand promise and value proposition best be packaged and delivered to meet those needs? Are you monitoring social channels to assess how they’re interacting with you and engaging in your community? First party data is the best resource for reliable understanding of their behaviors.

3. Creative thinking around your future

Based on deep insights into your consumer base and their unmet needs, what new categories can your brand credibly operate in to help solve more problems and cultivate a deeper, more valuable relationship? What new touchpoints can you activate to engage consumers on their journey? Finally, what new tools can you deploy to deliver on the promises you’ve made?

  • Legacy brands can improve their relevance by refreshing and restaging their brand positioning and building connections to current cultural symbols and aligned business behaviors.
  • New and emerging brands can embed this thinking into their go-to-market strategies and the brand narrative they are building.

Once you understand how status and aspiration are defined by your user base, you can go to work finding connections and building trust. Perhaps the most important sea change in our culture is a move towards how consumption decisions impact the world and community around us. It is no longer just what’s good for me, the decision is now also about what’s good for society and for the future world people want to live in.

Emergent is a trend watching, culture defining organization of brand building experts and communications architects. We can help you dial in relevance and gain traction while leveraging the powerful forces of cultural change that influence what people want. The outcome is traction, engagement, relevance, value and business growth.

Use this link to request a complimentary “culture impact assessment” of your category.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Brands are badges to be worn

4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth

September 23rd, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Category Design, Emerging brands, Food Trend, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Product design, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “4 Unique Strategies for Premium CPG Brand Growth”

Advantages you can plan and design for

Food culture in America has dramatically shifted during the last 10 years. People favor premium quality, higher priced products that address modern dietary needs serving health, wellness and sustainability goals. Better food experiences, fresh ingredients, more sophisticated tastes and the brand sustainability symbolism that goes along with it help complete the mission and taste adventure. This is the preference paradigm where all innovations whether from legacy brand or new player must pay homage on the road to success.

  • Here are four key strategies that hold sway over your ability to succeed, to grow and gain share for food and beverage innovations.

We highlight these four distinctive growth strategies in part because they are passed over all too frequently. Eclipsed by the allure of instant scale, every-new-retail-door-is-a-good-door and ill-advised distribution moves that undercut the very brand value proposition that premium CPG solutions embody. This helps explain the high innovation failure rate or seemingly insurmountable plateaus where new emerging brands stall out, never getting a shot at the high volume homeruns of wider adoption downstream.

Want to assure your brand innovations are successful and not a casualty on the path to pantry and fridge domination? Then read on.

  1. Your product concept is the marketing lynchpin (watch out for the Special Occasion Trap)

Food retailers care about velocity and monitor it relentlessly. Marketers care about scale because velocity and scale together are the flags of a winning concept; thus, why growth nirvana for premium CPG success always begins with strategic product and category design. Your innovation goal is a product that naturally, intuitively fits with frequent if not daily consumption occasions and feeds high repeat purchase behavior. Retailers understand this and look for it.

Products that are intended for niche, episodic occasions are much harder to score scaling victory for the very reason they don’t lend themselves to velocity, high repeat purchase business imperatives. If fancy jams are your jam, be prepared for the embedded difficulties that come with slow turn categories or segments with a narrow, special interest fan base.

2. Public ‘display’ categories add symbolism romance to marketing

Food and beverage purchases these days are largely symbolic. People ‘wear’ their brands as a statement, a flag, a visible demonstration of what they value and what they wish to signal to the world around them about who they are.

You know this so can you plan for it, use it. How can you enable consumers to fly your symbolic brand flag? Does your premium brand innovation lend itself to public display occasions such as barbecues, parties, taken to the office or gym and consumed in a social setting? Brand iconography, symbolism and telegraphing of same can be deployed here to help your users display and vote their beliefs and values. Too often this opportunity gets overlooked.

3. Pack strategies can ignite new occasions

No doubt you’ve heard of price-pack architecture. There is a bit of CPG magic in this strategic growth solution. It helps you lean into new and different occasions while creating higher average retail price points (more cash and flow) with a perceived embedded consumer discount, and more facings (brand billboard) at shelf. Pack architecture projects open the door to migrating your users to new consumption occasions.

Amplify Brands’ Skinny Pop brand rode the pack architecture idea to fame and fortune by creating both smaller bags and larger pack sizes of their pound-able guilt-free popcorn. The move lifted average price points while leveraging new use occasions from school lunches to birthday parties. When you offer new packs the input costs are manageable while adding exponential growth on the income side and serving the usage occasion/velocity rule at the same time.

4. The slightly uncomfortable but immutable rule of upscale zip code distribution

There’s an old but wise saying: fish where the fish are. For premium priced food and beverage innovations the distribution strategy decisions you make will have an enormous impact on your ability to gain traction and scale the business. Where you do business matters especially in the early going.

Premium innovations are home to higher quality ingredients, real food-based formulations.  These brands reflect the lifestyle symbolism embraced by consumer cohorts who in reality control the fortunes and failures of new product fame or flame out.

What do we know: educated, high earning households congregate in upmarket neighborhoods. Trial for premium priced CPG innovations will always be better served in retail doors that exist to serve an upscale shopper base. These folks not only won’t flinch at your higher price point, they are also hunters of new premium innovations. Early trial fuels their social currency of being a word-of mouth warrior.

There was a time when Whole Foods owned the early trial zone for premium CPG innovations, but other banners have caught up in their premium offerings. Now it’s a zip code exercise where your decisions are more about the education levels of the communities you distribute in ahead of other considerations.

The guidance: not every new door is the right retail door. Controlled expansion plus patience are better for building your business rather than taking distribution wherever you can get it. EDLP retailers have a different model and a different shopper base driven more by price point than your quality ingredient, healthy lifestyle bona fides. Walmart is better for mass legacy brands for this reason.

  • Broader distribution and wider geographic expansion make sense when innovations become mainstream and lower income households begin to take them up. Going that route too early can create problems leading to profit-eroding price drops and even delisting if you’re not careful.

There are 40 metro areas in the U.S. where greater than 30% of the adult population has a Bachelor degree or higher. That’s a cohort of more than 65 million adults. Higher income zip codes within those metros are primed for premium CPG introductions. These higher income, higher educated households are tuned-in to the evolutionary changes going on in modern dietary preferences. They are listening to your narrative.

  • In sum, you will grow in geographic areas where large numbers of people attach their lifestyle symbolism to your brand and spread it in their social circles. You should be on shelf in the banners where the shopper population is experientially primed to look for you.

Don’t forget to consider University towns for the same reason. These can be enthusiastic communities for bold, dietary alterations and innovations. Young adults especially are early adopters and influential in making new dietary shifts.

Here is the premium CPG innovation recipe for success assuming the product design fits squarely in the frequent consumption arena.

  • Build visibility, awareness and discoverability in the right stores in the right zip codes.
  • Increase local household penetration.
  • Increase consumption rates among early-in users by adding consumption occasions.

If you have these challenges and strategic questions as you plan your innovations and launch strategies, use this link to start a conversation with us. We can help you create a roadmap to success and the brand narrative well told to go with it. We are new product launch specialists.


Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

The return of brand investment

After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back

September 18th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Consumer insight, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back”

Consumers are human beings, not data points

As part of our ongoing series devoted to strategic planning guidance, we bring a mission critical recommendation on where to place your planning emphasis for 2022:

Brand building has returned to the fulcrum of marketing and business strategy leadership. After a decade of holding all the cards as a budget and plan priority, digital performance marketing has lost a bit of its luster. Customer acquisition costs are on the rise. There’s also a companion decline in the supply of digital ad inventory.

The creative deployment of your brand as ultimate differentiator and emotional connector should return to the strategic planning front burner.

Rethinking the path to business growth

  • Brand building: securing your position, uniqueness, values, mission and emotional equity.
  • Performance spending: driving the conversion funnel and revenue metrics.

These two approaches are not necessarily fighting one another. Both can enhance the outcomes of the other. Consumers, however, are the deciders. Their behaviors inevitably tipped the scale in favor of enhanced brand building. Now over-saturated and swimming in an ocean of digital content, people have evolved looking for deeper meaning and values in the brand relationships they care about. Digital native brands like Allbirds and Warby Parker saw this coming and pivoted to focus on brick-and-mortar retail so they can create richer in-person experiences with their brands.

Brands have always been valuable – but in recent years lost their priority in the marketing plan to the ease and electronic allure of digital data ROI claims. The untold part of this story: tech platforms usurped the essential role of brand building investment, ushering in another consequence: the splintering of agency partner resources. A thousand platform specializations emerged as companies looked for the next shiny new tech Saas solution that promised glorious, algorithm and data-driven performance.

Thus, marketers also found themselves managing a disparate cadre of specialists du jour – a digital ad firm, digital media vendor, a social media agency, a PR agency, an influencer agency, a brand collaboration firm, et al. What’s the net result of all these different tactical players and layers? A soup of varying voices and fragmented messaging that increasingly sounds like a confederation of a thing, and a thing, and a thing – opposed to a unified, consistent and differentiated brand.

Time to think differently!

The transition to brand investment is being helped along by Apple’s no tracking opt-out privacy move and Google’s coming shutdown of cookies that suspends individual tracking in favor of a cohort-based system (shared tastes).

These modifications to digital stalking of user behavior are ultimately a good thing for the health and growth of your business, and here’s why: it’s time to reinvest in your brand, the single most important ownable and differentiating asset you have in an otherwise vast sea of equivalency and similarity.

  • Marketers are learning the absence of real strategic investment in developing brand distinction and deeper experience is now holding them back from optimal growth results and competitive advantage.

Why?

Brands are uniqueness generators, deeper meaning vessels and trust-creating reservoirs of mission and values. You are operating in a consumer world increasingly drawn to aligned, kindred and symbol-inspired relationships – more so than transactional, follow-me-around-the-web ‘buy me now’ offers.

What dampened the primacy of brand building in the first place?

A digitally-enabled explosion of performance marketing tools pushed communications and content to a tactical model founded on conversions and revenue metrics. See you later, brand building. Hello targeting, tracking and clicks.

The great promise of infinite ROI on digital ad spending with Facebook and Google spawned a proliferation of specialist ad tech firms all looking for their piece of the eyeball pie – retargeting, digital media buying, affiliate programs –all while brand support took a raincheck.

Furthermore, the marketplace bar for entry of new brands became so incredibly low, it fomented a tsunami of digital ad content that is piling up in consumer feeds – all clamoring for a sliver of limited time and attention. Very noisy. Transactional. Less engaging and lacking lifestyle relevance.

Guidance for your brand strategy planning effort

As a general rule radical differentiation, higher purpose and emotional connection are the three legs on which to center your strategic plan.

  • Differentiation is essential to separation and standing out – consumers will notice you
  • Higher purpose imbues your brand with deeper meaning and values – how they trust you
  • Emotion is at the center of what drives consumers to act, make decisions – humans are feeling creatures who think

The goal of your planning is to optimize strategy for greatest impact. To enhance equity and the values your brand exudes. To create attraction, allure and stickiness. To win hearts because it’s always heart-over-head.

Here are four areas of focus that will help you win with a stronger brand:

  1. Aligned values

Insight research continues to reinforce that consumers’ care deeply about shared values and mission. They want to know what you believe in, what you stand for, that you have a soul which transcends commerce. They “wear” your brand as a symbol and flag to the world around them about what they value. What meaning are you giving them, and is it aligned with their beliefs

2. Experience satisfaction

Are they happy with the product-use experience, with the purchase journey, are you easy to do business with, do you put them first in ways that are both unselfish and also obvious to them? Do they learn from you? Is your brand a guide, coach and enabler of activities, experiences that matter to them? You are providing more than a product.

3. Memorable messaging

How do you stand out and engage people? The consumer is the hero of your brand story – it should be about their needs, wants and aspirations. Your brand’s role in the relationship is as guide and advisor to help them achieve their goals and ambitions. Neuroscience tells us that 98% of actions taken by consumers comes from an emotional response, not an analytical one. Is your communication informed by emotional messaging.

4. Your brand’s share of culture

What is the social conversation about your brand? What people are seeing and hearing about your brand in the micro-communities of influence that they belong to? It is critical to the ecosytem “buzz” they encounter. People respect the voices of their peers and credible experts. For the very reason that nearly 100% of the time the primary motivation in deciding what to buy is their fear of making a bad decision. You need to build a sphere of trust.

If these ideas and concepts resonate with you, now is a good time to bring some fresh thinking and perspective to investing in your brand. Use this link to tell us what concerns you have, what keeps you up at night. We can help you map the right path to brand growth, which is linked directly to your business outcomes.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Planning for consumer behavior relevance

8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning

September 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Influencers, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning”

How to amplify your 2022 marketing outcomes…

We’re in the thick of strategic planning season as food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers finalize their go-to-market strategies for the year ahead.

  • How do you ensure your plans will deliver the most benefit for every precious dollar invested?
  • What are the optimal elements in a marketing plan that will secure consumer and trade partner engagement?
  • What are the must-have components to deliver on your business objectives?

Here we examine the eight key elements of a marketing plan that removes risk and installs trust – a must-have on the road to business success no matter what stakeholder audience you are working to influence.

  1. Business objectives assessed alongside barriers to growth

Far too many marketing plans begin with declarations of business targets served up in a manner that implies it’s simply a matter of turning on the advertising faucet to deliver on the intended outcomes. A richer and more productive internal discussion will occur if the objectives are included alongside an honest, real-world assessment of the barriers that exist to delivering them.

Mind you, there are always barriers. No one goes to market in a vacuum free of systemic challenges and threats to success. It is in this act of realism and reflection that the executive team has a useful discussion on what must be overcome in order to win in the year ahead. This works to remove what we characterize as “hope-ium” from the plan discussion and gets everyone focused on contributing to ways of mitigating or navigating around the threats.

2. Competitive analysis with a unique purpose

Intentional or not, in many categories there is a fair amount of sameness that exists among brands matching competitor moves with comparable programs, product offerings and messages. If a brand is set up from the start for radical differentiation, then the chances of stepping into the similarity trap can be averted. Resemblance is an ongoing challenge in marketing. When communications is close enough that brands could literally interchange competitor names and the key message still works, you know a problem exists.

Instead, competitive analysis should be focused on looking for unmet needs and whitespace opportunities to zig when everyone else in the segment zags. Your goal is to be different. (No, really, really different.) And in doing so, stand out in a sea of category sameness.

3. Importance of consumer anthropology

Perhaps the most important element of all in marketing planning is the right kind of research to help inform strategy. This isn’t about data crunching around demographics of shopper populations. Relevance and resonance are everything to dialing in your communications plan for optimum impact. This simply can’t be done without the kind of insight research that truly peels the onion on your best users’ lifestyle concerns, passions, interests and desires. Users are humans not data points. You will get further by imbuing your brand with deeper meaning that reflects the values and beliefs of your heaviest users. To know them, literally, is to love them.

These cohorts are often the most important to your profit plan as they usually represent those who bring the highest volume and repeat purchase behaviors. The role of your brand is as coach, guide, educator and enabler on their lifestyle journey. You can’t do that without gaining insight into how they think, behave and what they care about. This is different than pushing analytical, fact-based messaging at them on formulation or technology specs. It’s always heart-over-head. All humans are emotional creatures who think and not the other way around.

4. The ‘culture shift’ imperative

Trends are far more important than ever before to influencing consumer preferences. Media influences the crowd and where the crowd of like-minded users goes will simply attract more and more ‘followers’ (this means the social conversation that’s going on matters to your strategic game plan). Right now, sustainability could not be more important as a culture change signal.

A large swath of the consuming public is enamored with sustainability behaviors, policies and standards created by brands to help mitigate their impact on carbon contributions and the environment. It is imperative that food brands with a heavy investment in meat ingredients take this into consideration. Just be careful not to invoke sustainability as a priority ahead of having the right science-based assessments of your carbon footprint. You want to avoid falling into the greenwashing trap. Sustainability is now associated with climate impacts.

5. Brand higher purpose discovery and refinement

Purpose-built branding is not a nice to have any longer. It is a vital construct that sits underneath your organization as a true north of why the company exists. Important to note, purpose is always built around a real human-relevant insight and not a corporate axiom like increasing shareholder returns. It has nothing to do with philanthropy and cause marketing. It has everything to do with a purpose that transcends the product offering and is married to how you improve your customers’ lives and the world around you.

More often than not, we find this key strategy that informs everything the company and brand stands for is under-nourished or treated as a cause-related project. The key questions to address:

  • Why are you in business (this isn’t just about business growth)?
  • How do you deliver on your why?
  • What business are you really in based on your why?

A Higher Purpose platform should be embedded in everything you do across the organization.

6. Evaluating spheres of influence

The internet has fractured the consumer world into micro-communities of shared interests and passions. It is in these communities where people filter, find and decide what to buy. There are influencers within these communities who are important to discovery and trial, to establishing the definitions of what is better and why.

The marketing plan should include an evaluation of these micro-communities and the leading voices within them. Here your brand should engage as a contributor to the conversation. Relationships should be built with the leading voices, not to co-opt them but gain their trust.

7. Assessment of outside third-party expert voices and contributors

Trust is harder than ever to achieve. 99.9999 percent of the time consumers are operating with one goal in mind – to avoid making a bad decision. Brands should engage the voices of outside experts and credible authorities to verify and validate what you want consumers to believe about your brand, business and Higher Purpose. These voices can add a layer of credibility to your content marketing plans and pull in a note of clout to key messages you wish to convey.

How these relationships are created and deployed is key. Be careful not to position these voices as brand promoters who come across like paid shills. They are there to validate, to deliver authentic “reports” on what you are doing. Trusted voices are essential to building belief, and trust is fundamental to your success.

8. A word about KPI’s

These days it’s standard fare to embed your evaluations with digital data given its availability across all of the social and content platforms where you deploy communications. Levels of perceived engagement are relatively easy to come by based on online behaviors. People, however, can also be fickle and unpredictable.

Creating a baseline of consumer insight research is invaluable not only to better understand what makes your users tick, but also to go back in later and assess changes in attitudes and behaviors over time.

These evaluations carry more horsepower because they dig into shifts in priorities, interests and activity on the path to purchase and whether or not your key messaging is getting traction.

All of this great work feeds creativity and informs strategy. It can lead your business to leaps in share. New users will enter the fold because your brand truly stands out for all the right reasons in a category where many players tend to blend together.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to the Emerging Trends Report.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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