Posts tagged "Trust"

How to Build a Trust Engine

April 18th, 2019 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Higher Purpose, Social media, Transparency 0 comments on “How to Build a Trust Engine”

Investing in Trust Can Deliver Marketing Efficiencies

For the last millennia, the currency of food, beverage and retail brand marketing has been awareness generation. More money has been spent in pursuit of the holy grail of being top-of-mind than any other single objective; for the oft claimed reason that awareness ideally is supposed to drive consideration and purchase. Or said another way, it’s based on the self-reverential belief that if the consumer sees a product message enough times they will buy because, after all, the product is so alluring and necessary.

What if this point of view were wrong-headed and spending dollars devoted solely to awareness creation tactics was akin to spraying water in the desert in the hopes that crops will magically manifest themselves? There may be some benefit to being continuously present for low involvement categories but even there, awareness doesn’t automatically ladder up to brand preference any longer.

Significant cultural shifts have reframed the paradigm on how brands are built that favors mattering and deeper meaning over spraying product claim messages everywhere. The focus should be on narrow-casting to an engaged audience rather than broadcasting in an effort to capture every eyeball. Mission, relevance and lifestyle connection are more important than being ubiquitous in today’s marketing best practices.

  • This brings us to banishing one myth at the start: you don’t need to appeal to everyone to be amazingly successful. In fact, the 80/20 rule prevails in many food and beverage categories — most of the revenue and profit will be derived from a relatively small cohort of committed users.

However, despite evidence that consumers tune out most of the overt marketing noise around them, we find ourselves at Emergent in the midst of frequent conversations about metrics and measurement that mostly calculates assessments of awareness building. Call it a hold-over from the Madison Avenue era, the enthusiasm for tactics in pursuit of that goal remains a dominant conversation in some annual strategic plans and spending priorities.

What if there were a better, more cost efficient and effective way to go to market?

Today, trust is the currency of successful marketing between consumers and product or retail brands. Trust cannot be ordered up from central casting. It must be earned through how the company and brand conducts itself and how its purpose is defined and brought to life.

Here is the simple truth: building trust is more cost efficient than chasing awareness. Yet companies typically outspend efforts to convert and retain customers by a 42 to 1 margin in favor of awareness building tactics. Hard to let go apparently.

What if your best customers ran your marketing?

Well of course the first push-back would be they don’t know what the company knows about the product, brand or retail deep background on features and benefits, and further they aren’t versed in the details and strategies of positioning and marketing messaging.

A moment then to pause and reflect. Feature and benefit type selling isn’t what it used to be. In a marketing environment filled to the brim with claims, assertions and hype, people increasingly find it hard to believe any of it. Additionally, consumers work overtime to avoid overt, interruption style marketing tactics. What they do understand is their own hopes, wants, dreams and aspirations.

When marketing works to align with what’s relevant to your best users, the effort takes on a whole new meaning. The goal of your strategic plan is to earn trust and that won’t happen when talking ‘at them’.

What does a trust creation engine look like?

Here are the fundamental tenets of customer-first marketing:

  1. You have to understand and care about their interests first, before yours. This requires some investment in insight research designed to better analyze what they care about. Assumptions in this area are often off the mark.
  2. Map ways your brand can make a real difference in their lives. Be intentional here.
  3. Effectiveness is achieved when your plans and messaging align the brand and business as an enabler of their hopes, needs and answers to their concerns.
  4. Be transparent and honest in your actions, business practices and communications. No more ivory tower thinking, which is now made of glass anyway.
  5. Extend transparency to openness about product creation, standards, supply chain and other aspects of how the business operates that your best customers will want to know more about.
  6. Create outreach programs around content that is relevant and meaningful to them. By definition this requires being less self-absorbed in what is conveyed. This will require a disciplined effort to refrain from the all-too-common trope of shameless self-promotion.
  7. Look to create and optimize the experiences and interactions consumers have with your brand to ensure they’re walking away with something of value (not money) to them beyond the transaction.
  8. To inform this effort, it is vital for the company and brand to build and understand its unique higher purpose and mission that transcends commerce — and creates a runway for communication around issues of meaning and importance to people and their values.
  9. Make doubly sure the company’s actions, policies and behaviors align with the mission. When ‘mission’ appears to be bolted on as a marketing maneuver and not an expression of true belief, it will fall flat.
  10. Want to have a more meaningful relationship with your best customers? Then imbue your brand with greater, deeper meaning.

No amount of marketing magic can save a soulless business or an unremarkable product. The goal of the business is to strive daily to be special, unique, memorable, useful and valuable. The foundation on which your customer relationship is built has to be about more than the product alone. That said the product is in many ways your true north so investing in quality at every point in the customer experience is now table stakes.

Without trust there is no possibility of a real relationship and the business will eventually become a commodity bought on price. Anchoring the marketing plan to trust creation is the path now to sustainable growth. It just also happens to be a less costly journey than chasing awareness for the very reason that focusing on the consumer’s needs and journey doesn’t require massive amounts of media to become sticky.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verification and validation may be the strongest marketing strategies yet

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

Transparency advances to gold standard for successful brand building

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

We’ve lost the signals of credibility.

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

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

Brand trust heads south.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Credible proof in the form of verified and validated claims

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

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

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

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

What’s the story you’re telling?

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

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

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

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

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

Blockchain to digitize honesty

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

How to get the very best from your agency partners

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

What do good clients do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The true value of an agency partner

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

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

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

What do agencies want?

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

Agency obligations

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

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

Humanity – the glue that binds

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

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

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

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

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

WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, digital tools, food retail strategy, Food service, Social community, Social media, social media marketing 0 comments on “WILL SOCIAL CHANNEL SHIFTS DRIVE BRANDS TO GO DIRECT?”

Brands look to better manage their own destiny

As we’ve stated many times here at Emergent, the brand that gets closest to the customer wins. Yet a form of strategic separation now descending on the food marketing universe has made it more challenging for brands to manage how that consumer closeness is achieved. These same conditions help contribute to the collapse of traditional media marketing models (about scale and control) often deployed by legacy brands to build and maintain consumer relationships.

As a result, we believe what’s ahead for CPG food may well include a large helping of direct-to-consumer outreach efforts. E-commerce growth has already redefined the business landscape, giving consumers a comfort level with buying products from home.

Retail isn’t going away, online or off, but we think a measurable percentage of the business overall may indeed move to direct-to-consumer platforms.

Meantime escalating brand participation in the “walled garden” of rented audiences in major social channels, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, has also conveyed relationship control to these platform intermediaries. On any given day, the decisions made by these social media giants can be a good thing or bad as their policy changes impact what brands can and cannot do on their platforms.

  • Brands, now forced to reckon with the shift of business to e-commerce, are finding the complexity of cross channel marketing and online engagement has already worked to snuff out the last embers of mass media’s flame. Disappearing with mass media’s grip is the brand’s ability to efficiently leapfrog various forms of retail or other digital gatekeepers to capture consumer brand equity and preference.

Algorithm alarm bell – now what?

Food and beverage companies working to implement their brand-building strategies in social channels find themselves challenged once again, as the behemoth community aggregators like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube adjust algorithms and feed policies making it harder to organically scale audience attention and reach.

In January, the tide turned (the second time since 2016) as Facebook announced yet another round of changes that favor posts from friends and family while diminishing organic post distribution from brands and publishers. Larger, mega-influencers – who must use Pages rather than personal Facebook accounts – will face a similar audience squeeze.

More regulated content policies put greater pressure on brands in social channels to up their shareable post quality game. We believe though, these restrictive conditions will add more value to building direct consumer relationships. This means, thoughtfully reconsidering how best to connect with consumers and deploy tools that sit outside the control of social channel policy moves, through owned channels like Blogs and email (e-newsletter).

Consequently, we believe the model for food and beverage brand building may change in the next three to five years. Pepsico currently projects their annual e-commerce sales to be north of a $1 billion across direct, retailer-owned and pure play (Amazon) e-commerce channels.

Of note, many of the new and emerging brands now grabbing the marketing spotlight in food, got their start in the direct-to-consumer space, where they built a loyal fan following before venturing into retail channel distribution.

  • A classic example: in the personal care category, online brand Harry’s disrupted the legacy razor blade industry by answering consumer frustration over runaway price increases. They successfully constructed a direct-to-consumer subscription model that helped Harry’s deliver a more affordable, high-quality alternative. The new Harry’s brand story, alongside rival Dollar Shave Club, helped end Gillette’s dominance.

As consumer contentment with buying online continues to expand in adjacent businesses, Harry’s recently secured added equity investment to fund another bellwether expansion. This time into other personal care, household and baby products categories that may naturally fit into a subscription model.

Bottom line: selling directly allows the brand unfiltered and unfettered access to consumers. As such it enables a direct flow of conversation without the unexpected shifts that are occurring in third party social channels due to conflicting business interests and priorities.

Behavior changes occurring behind the curtain

We see the shift to e-commerce as an outcome of evolutionary progress – meaning anything that adds measurably to consumer convenience and satisfaction is going to get its day in the sun.

During the last decade consumers spent 12 percent less time shopping, according to Jared Koerten, senior food analyst with Euromonitor International. “Consumers are spending less time shopping (while) looking for efficiencies and ways to save time,” he said. The result is fewer conventional shopping trips while online ordering continues to accelerate.

E-commerce and the digital communications environment will continue to be a major focus of brand marketing strategies. Consumers see the value in reallocating their spare time from shopping trip to other passions and pursuits. Be that as it may, other changes are occurring in the digital universe that impact how closer consumer relationships are incubated.

Emergent’s guidance on optimizing social channel strategy:

  1. Social algorithm changes enhance the valuable role of smaller (nano) influencers and the content they create, while amplifying the need to ensure that influencer relationships are truly founded on aligned interests and subject matter relevance.
  2. Social channel policy changes that depress organic distribution and engagement will necessitate yet again, more pay-to-play activity to boost posts.
  3. There will be diversification of outreach strategies to include more investment in direct paths of communication through Blogs and email.
  4. Rise of User Generated Content as a key component of social media marketing strategy. This tactic helps sidestep the policy changes and hits the right notes on authenticity and value to brand community participants.
  5. In case you’re wondering what form of content ranks highest in shares on social channels: Infographics.

Social channel policy changes and the dynamics of e-commerce may favor a new look for brand marketing that leans in on going direct. With it comes great responsibility in how these interactions are managed – so it doesn’t appear to be just a transactional proposition.

Help over hype – always.

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

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

 

 

 

THE EMERGENT TRUST ENGINE: Validation Marketing™

January 24th, 2018 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Consumer insight, Marketing Strategy, Retail brand building 0 comments on “THE EMERGENT TRUST ENGINE: Validation Marketing™”

A veritable mountain of consumer insight research continues to underscore the importance of transparency, integrity, ingredient quality and higher purpose to consumer purchase decisions for food, beverage and lifestyle brands they prefer. The legacy CPG and retail marketing paradigm of “interrupt and persuade” has disintegrated. The old methodology of creating strategy that invokes promises and claims around product features, formulation specs and benefits no longer resonates.

At the core of this cultural shift is one over-arching driver that enables sustainable brand relationships: Trust creation. In light of these changes, we’ve designed a new effective strategy planning approach at Emergent; one intended to anchor consumer trust and build added depth and meaning (value proposition) for a brand.

Emergent’s proprietary planning model – Validation Marketing™ – is constructed to supply tangible evidence of a company’s beliefs, behaviors and commitments to quality.

  • Our formal definition of Validation in this context is providing conclusive proof, evidence and demonstration of what we want consumers to believe about the brand and company.

Five key principles inform Validation Marketing. These foundational ideas spring from insight-research studies that chart the cultural migration from a brand’s self-reverential declarations of superiority to a focus on what consumers are passionate about and what is relevant to them.

Principle 1 – The Power of Higher Purpose

Belief and mission have never stood so strongly until now as a gateway to trusted brand relationships with consumers. A brand’s higher purpose represents a departure from transactional thinking and reflects instead what the core consumer truly cares about – what they value around beliefs and a value system that extends beyond commerce. Purpose strategy must be a reflection of the company’s unique mission, and how it’s embedded in the organization’s DNA.

Principle 2 – Trust Springs from Transparency

Openness is best served generously and often – by pulling back the curtain fully on supply chain standards, manufacturing processes, ingredient sources and quality standards. Letting the consumer in the door to observe, advise and co-create. Importantly, this also means acquiring a reflexive willingness to openly admit missteps – a very powerful and very human, laudable quality. This nurtures trust – the real pivot point in any meaningful brand relationship.

Principle 3 – The Connection of Influence to Validation

“Trusted source” credibility is now the accelerator of business communication, rather than the gross impressions or reach and frequency metrics (tonnage in media weight) that defined marketing traction for a generation.

The significance of respected influencers today is the validation they provide that reinforces and confirms what a brand or retailer says is indeed true. Influencers inform from a position of embedded trust.

Principle 4 – Emotion and Lifestyle Relevance

We know purchase decisions are made on an emotional level. Validation Marketing is based on appeals to the heart more than the head. Ultimately this is about commitments and beliefs. These subjects are best served with a heaping tablespoon of emotion and baked-in lifestyle relevance. When a company realizes and integrates its higher purpose into all aspects of how it goes to market, the outcome feeds a more emotive form of communication – one that inspires a true connection to people.

Principle 5 – The Importance of Social Proof

People respect and believe their friends, family members and other consumers ahead of any communication created by a brand. At the Pet Food Forum convention in Kansas City, presenter John Stanley of John Stanley & Associates cited research showing 93 percent of Millennials make their purchase decisions from endorsements, and of those, 66 percent came directly from friends. This helps us see social channels from a new and more productive angle: the mechanism of social proof – another step in the validation ecosystem. Social channel and user generated content tools are critical components in optimizing this channel.

Advocacy Drives Story Amplification

If friends’ recommendations matter during a purchase decision then it follows that brand fans can be powerful ambassadors providing the grist for social community and positive conversation about a brand. Getting to a trusted place where people want to become “members” of a brand community – and not merely purchasers – stems from a brand’s relevant meaning, higher purpose and its surrounding validation and advocacy.

Three Action Steps:

For food, beverage and lifestyle brands here’s a roadmap for embarking on the path to Validation Marketing success.

1. Message – Telling the stories behind how and where you source. The relentless drive for quality, the real people who manage your effort (and yes, your magic!), and the standards you’ve created to ensure repeated excellence. People want to know what goes into the foods and beverages they consume. Take people back to the farm.

2. Manner – There’s real, honest emotion around food, food experiences and the role it plays in our lives. Create context for your products within the inspiration people have in the kitchen, at the table and how they live. Connect the love people have for food and the social experiences it enables to your brand.

3. Make – Emphasize craftsmanship and attention to detail in product creation. What steps do you take to ensure the end result is the best quality? Help people understand how you do what you do. And just as important: tell consumers what you won’t do, the lines you won’t cross and the compromises you won’t make.

At the core of this approach to brand and retail marketing is the Higher Purpose you create that informs everything you do – as described in our post Building the Higher Purpose Brand.

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

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

Part 2: Orchestrating the new 360-degree brand building solution

November 16th, 2017 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Digital marketing, Integrated Communications, Marketing Strategy, Public Relations, Transformation 0 comments on “Part 2: Orchestrating the new 360-degree brand building solution”

How integrated communications planning operates

Marketing is no longer a department. Every aspect of how an organization collectively sees itself, thinks and behaves impacts their ability to get and retain customers. As consumers gained control in their relationship with brands, and cultural shifts placed more importance on brand integrity, transparency and beliefs, a new marketing model has evolved with it.

Now, a more holistic and comprehensive approach to business growth and development is required. In today’s consumer-driven climate, an organization’s higher purpose matters at least as much as the quality and benefits of the product itself. The entire ecosystem of business strategy to brand communication and experience must be optimized for relevance and resonance to consumer interests and needs.

Moreover, placing the consumer at the center of business strategy means that every aspect of how the company operates, creates products, sources its ingredients, behaves in the marketplace, and communicates, must be adjusted to align with how consumers’ lives can be improved through relevant brand touchpoints.

In this article we detail the eight elements of effective planning and communication in the age of consumer control. Together these ingredients form the recipe for brand-to-consumer engagement, conversation and mattering.

1. Business analysis linked to higher purpose guidance

We have entered a new era where company behaviors, as well as the DNA and creation of the product itself, is more directly impacting business growth outcomes. As a result, the client and agency team must collaborate to help guide business strategy, considering that all aspects of how a company operates will inform marketing results. Marketing and Communications simply cannot be isolated from the rest of the business plan – or brought in later to “ice the cake.”

The marketing ecosystem partners must be able to evaluate and bring context to operations, product creation and innovation, brand strategy, consumer insight and relevance. Equally important is providing strategic guidance on establishing the company’s mission and higher purpose. It is higher purpose – a real human-relevant mission that goes above and beyond the commercial intent of commerce – that becomes the blueprint to direct all aspects of business and go-to-market planning.

2. Importance of insight research and message testing

How can you possibly expect to support consumer aspirations if you haven’t peeled the onion to get as close to customer lifestyles as possible – and we’re not talking just about purchase behaviors. What’s going on in your core users’ lives? What do they want, care about, or dream of? How do you answer the call to deep understanding of what they value? How do you know what will resonate unless you pressure test the various ways to present a brand’s bona fides in relation to your customers’ specific needs?

3. Multi-channel outreach strategies

Mass media is gone. The ability to aggregate eyeballs went with it. Communication today is more narrowly focused on engagement in smaller communities where consumers participate, typically online or via experiential. So now, the portfolio of communications tactics must build from a seamless integration of medium and message in social, content, earned and paid, dialed into platforms and communities where potential fans and ambassadors reside.

It’s here where we find one of the strongest cases for higher purpose strategy. To the extent a brand is able to marry itself to a consumer passion point and become an enabler of it, the door opens to defining where the brand can participate and contribute in relevant ways. This is what Clif Bar® brand does as a focused supporter of outdoor adventure sports enthusiasts, or what Bosch home appliances does to inspire and enable culinary passions of home chefs.

4. The fundamental aspects of emotion and meaningfulness

Analytical, fact-based outreach is not respectful of the human condition. We are emotion-based beings and respond accordingly. There’s more intrinsic power in emotional forms of connection than will ever exist in messaging that’s a rational recap of data, facts and figures.

The human brain isn’t wired for this kind of disciplined analysis outside of the classroom. People care about their relationships, values, meaning, purpose and beliefs. Want to build a closer rapport with consumers? Then imbue your brand with greater meaning for your customer, beyond the product itself.

Video, by definition, is an emotionally-evocative medium. Stories of personal experience and transformation can be powerful in reaching people’s hearts – where the action really is.

It probably bears mentioning here that purchases are actually symbolic gestures – a demonstration telegraphing what purchasers want the world to believe about them and their values. So, aligning the brand with cultural cues for consumers to gravitate to is mission critical.

5. The importance of disruption and differentiation

“Similar” and “familiar” are two words that consumers typically use to define the competitive set in most product categories. The messaging around a product’s technical distinctions are often comparable from one brand to another; reflecting the sameness in formulas, recipes and ingredient decks. Packaging formats are often similar among competitors, as is messaging.

In many cases you can exchange brand names between competitors at the shelf and the stories are relatively interchangeable. Pet foods are a textbook example of sameness in how brands present themselves and their nutritional story.

Uniqueness often requires disruption (challenger brand thinking) of category norms and accepted traditions. Doing the unexpected and purposefully violating category conventions are vital to standing out. With so many voices vying for attention, different truly matters. Ownable distinctions remain the Holy Grail – especially in commodity businesses. Increasingly important are consumer- and culturally-relevant cues speaking to their desires for authenticity, company standards and real food ingredients.

  • We helped a client of ours, Schuman Cheese, create the first and only trust mark in their category, a seal that independently verifies product authenticity and integrity. (Research confirms that honesty and truth count towards brand preference).

6. The power of social proof

The voice of the satisfied user is the most powerful form of marketing. Building and investing in communities of brand/product fans is a precursor to facilitating their engagement, reviews and endorsements. Their voices are far more credible than anything a brand can construct on its own.

Helping consumers tell their stories and share their experiences is the most important path to cultivating word of mouth, a form of user-generated communication that breathes truth because it comes from the hearts and mind of people without profit motive.

Far too often, we find brands engaged in social channels with self-promotional content. Social is first about conversation and second about sharing. Content that is intrinsically valuable and useful to the brand fan community is vital to securing their attention. Creating the opportunities for fans to build and share their own content is integral to creating the proof of benefit brand stewards covet.

7. Relevance is the precursor to engagement

Understanding core consumer wants, wishes, dreams and concerns will direct the creative inspiration needed to build branded content that is worthy of consumer consumption. People care about their own lives and interests first. Brands that become a reflecting pool of the users’ interests and desires put themselves in a position to earn their attention, trust and even loyalty.

Far too many marketing campaigns are self-reverential, self-promotional efforts designed to present product features, benefits and technology achievements. While this information will always remain of note, it cannot be the first consideration in how stories are constructed.

Yeti® brand builds video stories of adventures and experiences with real people who fish and hunt. Is it focused on their cooling tech? No. It’s focused on the users and their stories. This less transactional, less selfish form of outreach is the path to creating lasting relationships.

Brands are built now on the basis of their ability to gain trust. And trust, at its core, is founded on providing lifestyle help rather than product hype. When looking for brand recommendations, people believe friends and family first as we fundamentally think they have our best interests at heart, and will be honest. Companies that respect this more empathetic form of relationship building will prevail in the marketplace – because they are able to earn and retain trust.

8. The most under-leveraged marketing asset of all: employees

Marketing is often so pre-occupied with product packaging, presentation and in-market support aimed at the end consumer, that another equally important stakeholder audience gets the back seat. Or in some cases, no seat.

Employees are one of the most import assets a brand can deploy in the marketplace. Their passion and enthusiasm underneath an organization’s mission and higher purpose can be an essential building block of belief.

How an organization views this audience – as a partner or a cost to be managed – will impact marketplace performance. If you equip employees with the brand’s tellable tale and provide opportunities for them to engage people beyond the office walls, you’re able to leverage a dedicated, enthusiastic and credible population of ambassadors.

Bring them into social channel platforms as content co-creators. Provide the tools, resources and training to tell stories that underscore the company’s commitment to higher standards, integrity, assurances of quality and the lengths the organization will go to hear and be responsive to users.

Integration forms the backbone for brand success!

Each of these steps and tools form the basis of integrated thinking – from aligning business strategy to higher purpose, to building consumer relevance in every aspect of brand communication – delivering a 360-degree, holistic answer to real integrated marketing.

This method respects the need to bring symmetry and synergy to all areas of company operations, behaviors and communication in service of the consumer. When this happens, trust breaks out because the consumer is, indeed, at the center of the company’s effort and the conversation.

Ironically, this approach will create improved business results, more so than the typical path of looking at consumers as “targets” for marketing to persuade.

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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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