Posts tagged "transparency"

Consumers work to avoid risk in all of their purchase decisions

Marketing Effectiveness Depends on Respect for Human Behavior

August 20th, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building, Social media, Transparency 0 comments on “Marketing Effectiveness Depends on Respect for Human Behavior”

Three ways to overcome marketing’s biggest challenge: risk avoidance

For many years marketing communication was not sufficiently informed by behavioral psychology and a deep understanding of how humans prefer one product or retailer over another. Brand campaigns were hit and miss, sometimes landing on the right note or idea and in other instances failing to create any real engagement. Do you know with 100 percent confidence if your brand communication is wired properly for human effectiveness? Read on.

What lies at the foundation of disconnects and misfires?

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of my former employer Ogilvy & Mather said it best in his precedent-setting book on the subject, Alchemy: “It is thinking without thinking that we are thinking.” Every human is hardwired to dodge perceived risk. Our purchase behaviors are 100 percent driven by trying to avoid making a bad decision. As Sutherland describes so accurately, “a 1 percent chance of nightmare dwarfs a 99 percent chance of a 5 percent gain.”

And perhaps most important, it is the sub-conscious side of the human brain that informs these decisions and actions, not the rational and learning side that is frankly, lazy, and defaults to the far smarter area of the brain that is operating at greater capacity below our conscious awareness.

More than a few brand minders think marketing effectiveness is resolved by providing logical, fact-based evidence and arguments for why a product or service is the best choice. It is, afterall, a convenient way to answer the company desire to self-promote new innovations and technologies.  Yet again, humanity steps in to deny those assumptions for the very reason people are not analytical, fact-driven decision-making machines. Complicated messaging that taxes the consumer brain remains an unwitting invitation to tuning out entirely. This kind of outreach is directed to the learning area of our mind that reflexively seeks to avoid burning mental calories and, thus, simply ignores it.

  • Imagine for a moment if you could fully dial in the psychological keys to engagement and position your marketing communication correctly to respect what we now know about how people behave and will continue to behave until the end of time.

So powerful is the motivation to avoid unpleasant surprises that people resort to a variety of risk-mitigating behaviors on the path to purchase.

The Power of Uncertainty

At this point you may observe in stark relief why it is so important to access the knowledge and skills of strategic and creative craftspeople to build your brand story. Ironically the logical, rational argument is often the least effective. Powerful communication does not always follow the linear path of a + b = c. While Emergent might describe itself as a marketing communications firm, in reality we are Behavioral Messaging Architects.

  • Wine tastes better when poured from a heavier bottle.
  • Pain relievers are more effective when people believe they are expensive.
  • Anything in scarce supply immediately becomes more desirable.

We live in an uncertain world. At any given time there is limited trustworthy information available to people. Yet consumers crave the illusion of certainty and so are uniquely drawn to signals of honest intent. This works effectively because it lowers the chance of a purchase decision being disappointing.

Humans are famous for claiming to be rational thinkers when in reality their actions and decisions are influenced through perceptions, emotional cues, and visual signals of trust and integrity. In our daily vigil to avoid unpleasant surprises people resort to cues that help resolve their requirement for certainty.

  • The real function of earned media strategy is risk mitigation. When products are vetted in credible examination by third-parties, people believe the claims are verified through an independent source. Not so much the words as the source, context and environment in which the words appear.
  • Even more important is social proof and word of mouth for the very reason that people believe other people before they accept the assertions and claims made by a business. More on this later.
  • Wisdom of crowds is simply that. If a product is perceived to be popular and used satisfactorily by many then likely it won’t be terrible.

Why has transparency surged as a viable path to better brand relationships? Because at its core, the act of being transparent is a demonstrable, visible move to embrace honesty and thus remove risk. Transparency has real leverage attached to it because it helps solve the uncertainty faced by consumers each and every day.

We did this to great effect for Champion Petfoods (makers of Orijen and ACANA brands), creating the pet food industry’s first Transparency Council as a platform to build independent assessments of truth and honesty about how Champion made their pet food and sourced their ingredients. Important here was the symbolism and trust signal created by the Council’s very existence and a regular calendar of content produced that leaned heavily into validating through observation what Champion promises. It was a bold move at the right time.

Overcoming DNA-embedded risk avoidance

If risk perception stands between your brand and its future growth prospects, it only makes sense to work hard at mitigating it. It’s important to note here that rational arguments aren’t going to succeed. Signals of honest intent and credible voices however can be enormously effective.

Let’s begin by unwrapping the two secrets to effective messaging:

First, people do not buy things, they purchase meaning and context. What are you giving them that imbues your brand with a higher purpose and thus a purchase takes on greater meaning as a visible symbol of their values and beliefs?

Second, the hero of your storytelling isn’t the brand. It is the consumer; their wants, needs, passions, concerns and desires, with the brand positioned as coach and expert advisor on their life journey. Don’t compete with the consumer for the hero role! Said another way, talk about them more than yourself.

Three ways to overcome risk

1. Perhaps most important is understanding the end goal is cultivating trustworthiness. How can your company and brand humanize itself and mirror the very best qualities people look for in those they implicitly trust?

Those qualities include:

Empathy

Care

Responsiveness

Unselfishness

Openness

Truthfulness

Being strong enough to admit mistakes

Actions speak much louder than words, so the question here is how does the company operationalize and behave in a manner that respects these principles and assures they are held in high regard by employees.

2. Enlisting the voices of outside, independent, objective observers and experts to validate your promises and claims. This may sound like an analytical approach, but the devil is in the details of how this is done. The symbolism of allowing others to report is a significant move. What is reported on matters – your responsiveness, humanity, caring, truth-telling and unselfish acts are far more persuasive than your technology, recipe, formulation and production prowess.

Embedding a higher purpose in how the company operates and its reason for being will go a long way to informing this approach fully and successfully. You can read about Harnessing the Power of Purpose in greater detail here.

3.  Social proof and user-generated content (UGC) are the twin social media strategies that work to take risk out and replace it with believable evidence of performance and satisfaction. Trust in brands and corporations have been in decline for years.

This is why social channel strategy and encouraging user-generated content is so vital on the path to risk abatement. The honest, unscripted accounts of experiences and outcomes from real people are testament to what you want others to believe about the benefits of using your product or shopping your store.

When Emergent goes to work on creating a messaging platform for a client brand, we focus on purpose, cause, context, deeper meaning, emotion and effect. We look for visual signals that flag honest intent for the very reason we know these characteristics and words are more powerful than fact-based stories.

It is difficult to accept that humans are not rational and logical players in your marketplace. However, once this is understood and embraced, a whole new world of repeatable effectiveness is ushered into the marketing plan for the very reason it is built on real respect for the human we wish to serve.

If you would like to discuss in greater detail how this applies to your brand or store, use this link and let’s start a conversation.

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.

Cooking burnout is upon families right now

Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived

August 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, engagement, food experiences, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “Your Greatest Branded Content Creation Opportunity Has Arrived”

Food and beverage brands can take the lead as coach and guide

Your brand’s best opportunity for real engagement occurs when consumer need and your expertise overlap at precisely the right moment. And that moment is now.  It’s here, we’re in it. You have an opportunity to become a trusted partner, a useful resource, at a time when families are running out of menu ideas and kitchen fatigue is setting in.

  • We’ll provide guidance on what to do, but first let’s take a look at what’s happening right now that creates this important opening for brands to build a more meaningful relationship with their users.

Consumer research continues to reinforce a significant shift, and likely permanent change, to an increase in at-home meal preparation occasions. The pandemic has prompted millions of families to get back into the kitchen full time. Working and schooling from home makes this a three meal a day duty. Some are new to this culinary endeavor and the learning curve is upon them. Cooking veterans consistently have to devote more time and attention to laboring over the stove.

According to a recent “COVID-19 Impact on Eating” report from The Hartman Group, 93% of dinner eating occasions are prepared and consumed at home.

  • Even more amazing is the surge in lunch; 81% of occasions are occurring at home.
  • Dinner menus involving ‘heavy’ preparation are at 31% of occasions, up 9 points from a year ago, while lunch occasions requiring moderate preparation have jumped to 33%, up 14 points from 2019.

In sum, despite the dramatic falloff of restaurant eating events, Americans are choosing to cook rather than outsource their meals. The research also reveals that 33% of all eating and drinking occasions are in service of health and wellbeing objectives – no surprise given the elevated importance of health and wellness. People are purposefully making an effort to protect their immune systems while the pandemic continues to ravage the nation.

Kitchen burnout is a reality and it has arrived

Food, beverage and food retail brands are afforded an extraordinary opportunity to become a useful coach and resource for home cooks. This comes at a time when they not only need inspiration and instruction but personal encouragement and emotional support as well.

Considering people are spending more time at home, menu creation has taken on a new significance and importance for families. Previous studies of home cook behaviors determined that most have a repertoire of roughly 10 dishes they know well and will continue to keep in rotation. However, after months and months of repeat visits, menu weariness sets in as home chefs run out of ways to freshen their tried and true dishes.

Reinforcing the permanent home cooking shift is health and wellness aspirations

Alongside this cooking-from-necessity condition is a growing appreciation that home cooked meals are generally:

  • Healthier, more nutritious
  • Portion controlled
  • Completely customized
  • Convenient to scheduling
  • Safer
  • And can be functionally curated to support health and wellness objectives

Being relevant to consumers is the precursor to creating authentic engagement opportunities with them. What consumers are experiencing now puts your brand in an enviable position to be useful and helpful at a moment of real need.

“During this worrisome time many have re-discovered latent cooking expertise and more than a few have developed newfound culinary skills, but also most are feeling a bit weary and are reporting varying degrees of family meal fatigue. Our meal preparation muscles are tired, tested and stretched. Still we know the nutritional and family functioning benefits are out there awaiting us,” wrote David Fikes in a recent The Food Industry Association report ahead of their annual National Family Meals Month promotion in September.

In other words, now, when we’re tired, we most need the encouraging words of an inspiring trainer urging us to push beyond the fatigue, work through the discomfort and get reenergized about family meals, if we wish to reap the solid benefits they hold for us in terms of health, happiness and well-being,” he said.

Perfect moment for the most effective brand content strategy

Storytelling is best served when proper roles are recognized and respected. Consumers want and need to be the heroes of their own life journeys. The brand’s optimal function in this scenario is as coach and guide. That’s precisely what is required here. Your ability to step in with emotional support, inspirational culinary ideas and guidance on preparation skills and innovative cooking techniques will help consumers save time and avoid mistakes.

  • Your goal is to make the home chef more successful and comfortable in their kitchen-centric calling.

How to optimize this moment for connection and relationship building

Empathetic voice

Now is the time to put the brand ‘in league’ with the consumer by acknowledging the frustrations and burnout they may be feeling after months of constant meal preparation. It gets tough after the entire family is around the dining room table nearly seven days a week for months with no end in sight.

Food is an emotional category

Food consumption is enjoyable, social, indulgent, and can be transformational. This isn’t just about skills and cooking temperatures, it’s also about the table, experimentation, creativity and taste experiences.

Keep it simple

People literally run away from complexity and communication that taxes their brains. People are hardwired to avoid burning mental calories, so ideas and menus need to be presented simply, clearly with an eye towards simplifying what people must tackle in the kitchen.

Video and webinar are the right mediums

Harness the incredible capability of video to marry instructional or emotive words with pictures to amp the entertainment value. This will help people better understand through visual demonstration what they should be doing to bring great food to life.

Credible experts can help

Chef voices can elevate the conversation and add viewer interest to what you produce. As we said earlier, people now see food as a direct channel to improving their own health and wellbeing. Outside experts in nutrition and wellness add more authority to what your presenting. People are more likely to respect credentialed third-parties than in-house voices.

Social proof and trust creation

Consumers love to hear from other consumers. Employ your social channels to engage the community in sharing their own culinary content, recipes and ideas. People are far more likely to engage their peers before they’ll accept the assertions and claims brands make.

Transparency

Consider virtual farm visits with your suppliers and an opportunity to hear the personal stories of the families who create the ingredients you use. This serves as a transparency mechanism where customers get to see first-hand how your ingredients are sourced and then how your recipes are created.

Don’t wait

Now is the time to create a content calendar and begin operating in service of your customers during their time of need. With work-at-home looking like an ongoing condition and schooling- from-home likely to occur for many young people in the fall, kitchen and menu burnout isn’t going away any time soon.

This is a time for experimentation and openness to trying new flavors and cuisines. With the tried and true dishes most home cooks repeat losing their luster, people are gravitating to new experiences. In light of this condition, they need the guidance and expertise you can provide to bring new food ideas to the table.

Need help creating and building a strong culinary content calendar and fresh creative assets optimally messaged to engage home cooks in the right way? We can help! Let’s discuss your needs in greater detail.

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.

Stark reality of rapid change mandates marketing shift

March 24th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, e-commerce, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Stark reality of rapid change mandates marketing shift”

Guidance as new voice required in the face of cultural upheaval

Whatever the marketing plan looked like four months ago, it’s changing now in the face of a new reality and shifts in consumer attitude. Here we will chart the conditions and explain an enlightened approach.

So you understand what sits underneath the shifts:

Awhile back when we were engaged in the home safety products category, we had access to reams of quantitative and qualitative research to help us understand what the barriers were to purchase of potentially lifesaving products. The primary hill climb can be summed up in six words: “It will never happen to me.” Home fires, carbon monoxide incidents and other similar close-to-home threats happen to “other people,” consumers believed. This complacency could only be disrupted when confronted with real people stories of loss and tragedy.

The self-assessment people made was, never in my backyard. Now that sentiment has broadly shifted.

The unfolding events around us all has created a new reality. The change can be summed again in a statement, only modified as “it CAN happen to me.” We are witnessing the emergence of primal fear, anxiety nourished with uncertainty, multiplied by the speed of change going on and accelerated by public policy moves in an effort to flatten the curve of pandemic impact.

People believe they are truly vulnerable, while news reports of continued escalation in COVID-19 cases operates as confirmation of that view.

What does this mean to you? There is a rapidly increasing need for emotional support and preparedness. If you’re wondering whether or not consumers are paying attention to your behaviors and communication, a new research report suggests they are closely watching your moves.

  • Gfk research has been tracking the changes and in a recent report said that 73 percent of consumers say how companies react and handle the unfolding crisis will have an impact on future purchase decisions. No surprise, 85 percent of Gfk respondents indicated the virus is impacting their shopping behaviors, presaging a significant, and likely lasting, migration to e-commerce channels.

Primary call to action: consumers are looking for “a brand I can trust to guide me.” Thus, it’s time to step back and take a hard look at what initiatives and outreach in your current efforts are specifically addressing the need for trust creation.

Trust and safety are paramount

  • How are you expressing and addressing empathy and support for the lifestyle upheaval and anxiety people are experiencing?
  • Can you help people answer and manage the emergence of ‘family cabin fever’ conditions in the home?
  • Can you provide lifestyle encouragement, advice and ideas to help home-bound families continue healthy living regimens and behaviors?
  • Of note here, the more ‘unexpected’ it is from you in the areas to try to be helpful in, the more unselfish and trustworthy you appear.
  • Time to enable and encourage community conversation of shared experiences and events in your social channels. People need a place to engage and share.
  • Reveal details of your ingredient safety and testing standards in product creation. In fact, generally there has never been a better time than now to be transparent about everything.
  • What are your manufacturing hygiene protocols and safety procedures?
  • For emerging brands, communicate your supply chain integrity and ability to continue the regular flow of products to distribution. If there are limitations in this area, explain them openly and honestly.
  • For food retailers, your customers are going to hit exhaustion with home meal preparation 24/7. How can you amp up your prepared meal solutions business to bring some welcome relief for home chef monotony syndrome?

Engagement likely to be at an all-time high

With fewer distractions and a feast of extra time on their hands, people will be more open to engagement and have the bandwidth to pay attention. Content creation strategies can help fill the void. That said, it’s important to observe the rules of being helpful and useful over product promotion hype.

In 2008 and 09 when the economy tanked, a great lesson was served to businesses everywhere. Companies that continued to invest and communicate experienced share gains over rivals who answered the soft economic conditions by going into a fiscal fetal position.

You have the chance now to be seen and heard. What you say will impact perceptions of your ability to be trusted and of value to consumers’ rapidly changing lives.

If you need help navigating in this time of great change, please let us know.

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.

Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail

March 13th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, consumer behavior, e-commerce, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, Human behavior, Insight, Retail brand building, Social media, Supermarket strategy, Validation 1 comment on “Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail”

Your next moves to retain trust and reputation

Right now, your consumers are worried, bewildered, concerned and uncertain about what shoes might drop next. They are being sent home from the office, schools are shutting, sports and entertainment events are gone, Spring break vacations are upended, and the future impacts of the pandemic are hard to predict.

We know you equally have concerns and are working hard to address any uncertainties. We’re with you and know your heart is in the right place.

This is a significant moment on the continuum where brand trust and reputation can be secured or injured. What you do next will matter, and it’s important to note that communication may be one of the most important assets at your disposal.

  • Honest, transparent messaging breeds trust and feeds patience, while silence will fuel uncertainty and dilute confidence.

Number one: communicate early and often

This is not the time to be quiet. If you make or sell a consumable product, especially food, beverages or pet food, people are worried about what comes next. Here’s what they want to know, right now.

For CPG

  1. Is there anything going on in your supply chain that will negatively impact the availability of your products? You may not have all the answers but it’s better to communicate current status than to stay silent. What you don’t know you state as such.
  2. What’s happening in your manufacturing, whether that be your own facilities or co-packers, with respect to employee activity, plant hygiene, and mitigation plans should people be sent home?
  3. What are your standards, methods, procedures on maintaining vigilance over ingredient integrity and safety, and testing for same through the product creation process?
  4. How can they get your products and services online? We know that feels like a ‘water is wet’ type question but it’s important and should be addressed in these conditions.

For retailers

  1. Are you able you keep customers apprised of out-of-stocks and shelf replenishment schedules?
  2. Can your pharmacy experts set aside scheduled time for by-phone consultations or online Q&A’s?
  3. Are you signaling home delivery wait times when capacity is stretched?
  4. What are your food handling an on-premise hygiene policies and procedures to help avoid any contamination?

The message matters

Your voice in this moment will impact the outcome. It’s important to avoid corporate speak, industry jargon and complex, “inside baseball” forms of messaging that only an employee can unravel.

A human, approachable voice including information that is presented with clarity and transparency will resonate with those you wish to reach. People routinely ignore dense, complex, analytical-style messages. Simple is better.

This is not the time for grand standing, self-promotional and brand-anthem style outreach that attempts to pass over the reality of what’s happening. Instead, empathy and care for the health and wellbeing of your users should ring through everything you release or post.

Next steps

  • Publish updates and trust-enhancing content at your web site and in your social channels on a weekly basis. More often if you have new news to share.
  • Keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Encourage dialogue and conversation at your social sites to invite questions from fans and followers.
  • As the situation changes, keep your stakeholders informed.
  • Be generous of spirit and look for “surprise and delight” opportunities and stories for users and channel customers. Celebrate helpfulness, acts of kindness, and ‘we’re all in this together’ kinds of inspirational unity.

Navigation leads to reputation

Your efforts to be accessible, approachable and honest here will lead to respect and confidence among the stakeholders that matter to the future of your business. Both internal and external audiences will benefit greatly from your efforts to keep them apprised of what’s going on.

As always should you need help navigating these uncharted waters, we’re here to support you with guidance, messaging, copy, media and anything else you might need.

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.

Jump to change

When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen

February 20th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, CMO, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, storytelling, Transparency 0 comments on “When Your Marketing Acquires Greater Meaning, Big Things Happen”

Create a movement or sell features and benefits?

Consumers are masters now of recognizing traditional marketing tactics and opting out to avoid communication that comes across as self-promotional. On the flip side, brands that position themselves as enablers and expert guides on what’s important to consumers are finding an open path to consumer engagement and conversation.

We know the latter can be difficult to accomplish.

It’s hard to step away from the reflex to self-promote.

However, we also know you care deeply about effectiveness and outcomes.

Understanding the difference between the two pathways (self-promotion vs. enabler communication) is vital to making marketing investments payoff – it’s the difference between creating marketing people want rather than ignore. The path to brand relevance now requires a more enlightened and human approach to how the brand and business is presented.

In an ad industry trade story authored by R/GA agency CEO Bob Greenberg that influenced Emergent’s point of view about marketing best practices, he said the definition of a big idea is one that you can immediately and intuitively see how it will impact the behavior of a company and brand.

A big idea was NOT defined as a catchy slogan or a clever ad or promotion, rather a platform that would have bearing on how the company conducts its business and how the brand behaves in the marketplace. Here we are in 2020 with an elevated idea of what that concept means today.

  • If the purpose of the business is simply to uptick the number of transactions year on year, and the role of marketing is to feed the sales funnel in that endeavor, what are we potentially leaving on the table?

A few years ago, Emergent and insight research firm Fresh Squeezed Ideas, conducted a webinar on the value of businesses working to define their unique Higher Purpose. The premise of this concept is relatively simple: people want to be a part of something that’s greater than themselves. The goal here, to imbue the brand with deeper meaning and by doing so reframe its value proposition while inspiring people to “join” the brand as believers not just buyers.

Beyond Meat says it wants to change how people eat while taking better care of our natural resources. This is different than selling reformulated vegan burgers. The opportunity here is significant when rethinking the mission and purpose of the business, and in doing so creating a more powerful narrative that will draw consumers towards the brand.

Large cap legacy food and beverage businesses struggle now in part because it’s harder to inject an established business platform with soul-like thinking. It’s a cultural transformation that has to start at the very top if it’s to have a prayer of altering the course of a larger enterprise.

Higher purpose is not reserved only for new and emerging brands. In fact, we’ve been surprised of late at the number of new food and beverage businesses that are stuck in the feature/benefit promotional cycle and have not developed any form of mission and purpose that could recast how consumers perceive them beyond a cleaner label.

So we ask: what can galvanize an organization to stretch itself and its brand persona beyond the daily battle for transactions?

Marketing magic is no longer reserved for the clever ad theme or artistic copy point. The old tools don’t work like they used to because the consumer isn’t listening and has the ability to avoid it entirely. People hunger for more honest, authentic connections to the brands that matter to them.

Yeti coolers is an iconic example of a brand that said, “no we are not in the better cooler business.” Instead they are enablers of outdoor adventure, tapping into a deep yearning people have for the experiences and lifestyle aspirations around fishing and hunting.

As a marketer what would you rather do? What kind of conversation do you want to build?

Apple created a way to remove intimidation from computer technology and provide a pathway for creative people to express themselves. The focus isn’t on the machine or its technology but on the aspirational desires and interests people have to make a difference in the world around them.

Reflexively, traditional thinking says the brand marketing should be waxing on about the product and its features. However, this injects the message with a disconnect. Instead, for greater communication effectiveness, the consumer must be the hero of the storytelling with the brand positioned as guide and enabler.

The question we often get is, how do you conduct discovery on what the right higher purpose should be?

Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis is intended to help arrive at the right purpose framework that reflects the unique DNA of the company. The process, however, begins with insight to the consumer’s lifestyle interests, passions, concerns, challenges, wants and needs.

That understanding then aligned with the company’s capabilities, beliefs and strengths helps lead us to a purpose that clarifies the business mission and informs marketing and messaging strategies.

Transparency for example can be viewed as an on-trend tactic. At a more strategic level it can solve three problems: first, to provide visibility to the supply chain. Second, to create consumer confidence in the quality and origin of ingredients used in products. Third, and at a more existential level, it is about embracing truth and honesty – two human characteristics people are naturally drawn to in an era of half-truths and missteps.

Honest Tea made honesty a hallmark of its mission and reason to be. The company ran an honesty gut-check through every aspect of how it conducted itself, how it presented the product and behaved in the marketplace. You may already know the success achieved there; the reframing of the RTD tea category they created and the multiples they reaped on sale of the business to Coca-Cola.

Example questions we explore:

  1. What journey is our consumer on and what can the brand help enable to improve their lives?
  2. What cultural shift or concern is important to users and how can we get involved?
  3. What do we believe as an organization and how can we operate to support a more purposeful mission?

When the brand acquires a Higher Purpose, it reframes the conversation with consumers, it enables storytelling opportunities that will draw consumers into considering or learning more about the brand. The business is no longer wed to aggregating eyeballs and attempting to win on the tonnage of media spend.

The impact on employees can be dramatic, too – the team also wants to be part of something greater than themselves and the organization can rally around the mission with amped up drive, power and commitment to the greater good.

Genuinely helping improve your customers’ lives is a satisfying calling, and this corporate form of reciprocity will attract rather than repel people from your marketing investments.

This is the path to sustainable growth and progress.

If you would like to know more about Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Analysis, let us know.

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

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

Understanding the unique requirements of pet brand marketing

February 2nd, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Pet care, Pet food, Pet food marketing, Pet nutrition, Transparency 0 comments on “Understanding the unique requirements of pet brand marketing”

Avoid marketing misfires and create opportunities

The pet care business is dynamic, growing and vibrant, while also highly competitive with more new entrants arriving every year. Pet care is also unique in its aligned requirement for better, more strategic and consumer-centric marketing solutions.

What other food category is there where the most popular product form, kibble, is identical in appearance brand to brand. This alone requires significant leaps of faith from buyers to believe the assertions made about the quality of food ingredients inside the nugget.

It is a highly-emotional category where pet parents strive to provide the best diet they can afford for their furry family members as an active expression of their love. Yet the predominant pet food storytelling mechanism is analytical – not emotional – and based largely on protein wars “specsmanship” around percentages of real meat in the food.

Sameness on the hunt for uniqueness

One trip through the aisles and the similarity in messaging trumpets from the shelf. Meat to carb ratios, nutrition superiority, ancestral diet, grain-free, wholesome grains – offering snapshots of beautiful whole chicken, salmon filets, steaks, fresh vegetables and fruits. Human grade food images, often reminiscent of stock food photography, suggest pets are enjoying the same dinner-table fare people consume.

The similarity in brand messaging and imagery creates a blur of confusion for pet parents, who must turn to recommendations from others to get through the gauntlet of like-sounding food claims and complicated label terminology.

Messaging mayhem

At a Pet Food Forum convention, Emergent presented on marketing best practices. We created a chart showing random primary claims made at the shelf by 10 different pet brands on the left and a list of brand names on the right. We challenged the audience to match the message to the brand. In truth, they were all inter-changeable.

But more important, in every case a fundamental miscalculation was at work that embedded a disconnect in the communication.

With few exceptions, typical pet food storytelling casts the brand as the hero of the story rather than the pet parent and pet. Everyday people wake up believing they are the hero of their life story. When encountering messages that cast the brand as competing hero they continue on, still looking for an expert guide to help them solve the problems they face.

When the brand is presented as expert coach to the pet parent, dynamic changes and communication lines open up.

More often than not, pet brands focus on themselves. Understandable, given the enormous efforts to create a top quality, highly nutritious food, but inadvertently inoculating the marketing with a message that doesn’t allow the pet parent to see themselves and their profound pet relationship in the story.

The solution here is to put the pet parent at the center of strategic planning and work backwards from there. Insight to their lifestyle wants, aspirations, needs and the connection to their pet provides the grist for marketing and messaging that works.

Leap of faith?

If ever there were a product category where trust creation is paramount, pet food is it. There is significant marketing mileage to be had for brands that embrace and understand that today, people no longer accept at face value the assertions and claims made by pet brands.

People don’t trust companies – instead they trust other people.

This helps explain why year to year social media continues its upward trajectory as a key element in the marketing mix. Especially when it is respected as an independent forum for pet parents to share anecdotal stories of transformation and change for their pets.

  • All too often social channels are viewed simply as another broadcast vehicle for self-promotion. The goal in pet brand marketing is to earn trust. This is where strategy lives, embracing the opportunities offered when the brand decides to be completely transparent, opening the door to the entire product creation process for people to see and experience.

When belief is an objective, then the voices and messages employed take on new and deeper meaning. Pet parent ambassadors and outside third-party experts like Veterinary physicians and breeders can be instrumental in helping ascend the credibility mountain. Videos with the journey to the farm and kitchens that are constructed around a documentary format (unscripted interviews) rather than ad-like, help elevate the story believably.

An often-overlooked aligned opportunity are the high standards pet brands create for food safety and ingredient quality. We often find these sacrosanct rules exist, but remain largely hidden away and not brought to life (in the context as consumer as hero) as another reason to believe.

Efficiency through integration

For the most part the pet food industry is populated with small and medium sized premium players amongst a smattering of big, legacy brands. Most cannot win the marketing battle on the basis of tonnage in paid media spending. Every dollar invested needs to work like 10, and this condition amplifies the importance of an integrated approach. Even big media budgets no longer guarantee victory (ad-like outreach is increasingly ignored).

The power and effectiveness of awareness building around the important “why” of heavy user re-purchasing, works optimally when all relevant channels are operating in concert from packaging and shelf promotion, to editorial media, to branded social channel posts and how user-generated content is curated and served. This reinforces why the messaging is mission critical.

When the messaging isn’t right, nothing works to greatest impact.

All too often we find complexity in pet brand messaging that runs squarely into a roadblock on the receiving end. Too many distinct brand messages competing for attention forces people to sort through too many claims. Humans will never tax their brains to find relevance, so they simply tune out and walk away. Clarity and simplicity are stronger.

The pet business also consists of thousands of independent retailers, alongside big box and grocery. Trade relationships are critical in this environment manifesting in share of retailer perceptions and resulting linear feet. Trade facing media presents an affordable opportunity to be a dominant voice and another venue where paid and earned can be integrated to maximum effect, especially around key periods such as Global and SuperZoo trade shows.

Earned media opportunities

Earned media is a unicorn non-paid channel, in that editorial sensibility is required to successfully leverage it. Ironically, when the brand casts itself as expert guide (focusing on the issues and concerns of pet care and strives to embrace transparent operation) earned media opportunities multiply. Why? Because it’s more relevant to the audience than self-promotional brand rhetoric.

Trying to leverage ad-like promotion and self-serving events, in a media channel based around what’s newsworthy, is a recipe for non-performance. That said, there’s never been a period in the pet business when news can be served more often, than at a time when virtually every media property out there has turned to lifestyle advice and guidance to enhance their own audience relevance. Just remember the story has to look, walk and talk like news.

What’s next

The winners and losers in pet brand marketing will be driven by those who optimize their messaging for pet parent resonance, making them the hero of the brand story, while working to align company behaviors and operations with the consumer’s demand to do business with brands that embrace similar values and truths.

  • The most valued brands will prevail because they recognize ‘trusted by’ pet parents must be earned daily, and that actions speak just as loudly as words.

Previously we’ve mentioned a complimentary messaging audit as a no-risk way to have a conversation, one that provides added value. We offer it again here. If you would like a fresh perspective on your current messaging approach, let us know.

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

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