Posts in Agency Services

Marketing is Not a Department

Marketing is Not a Department

November 17th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Sustainability, Transformation, Transparency 0 comments on “Marketing is Not a Department”

Company beliefs and behaviors impact business strategy

Your entire organization comprises the marketing platform now. Your higher purpose, mission and belief systems will impact your company’s marketplace behaviors and status. Operations, supply chain policies, manufacturing and employee commitments influence how consumers and stakeholders perceive your brands and resonate to your business.

Marketing is no longer a department. The entire enterprise is integral in the strategic game plan to get and keep a customer. It is time for leadership teams to acknowledge this insight and take the strategic planning silos down in the interest of improving the organization’s growth and advancement plans.

Still a department?

An objective assessment of many CPG and food retail businesses would conclude that marketing operates as a department, likely down the hall from sales and human resources. This compartmentalized organizational structure has been cast in stone for eons. It came to be in the command-and-control era of business management. That condition, however, has changed forever. In the age of consumer control, it is vital that customer-centricity reigns as the operating philosophy governing how companies organize for success.

  • Our challenge to you – it is time to reconsider how the business is assembled when you know your thinking and planning will be influenced by how the customer is prioritized (or not) in the hierarchy of business operations and policies.

Traditionally, marketing has owned responsibility for interpreting consumer insights, developing brand communications strategies and product promotion intended to sell more product to consumers. Marketing was usually seen as the alchemy of awareness and persuasion linked to driving the sales funnel from consideration to purchase among increasingly elusive users.

  • Consider this: now, literally every aspect of how a company behaves, makes decisions, its belief systems and values, how operations unfold – literally everything from the factory floor on up has a role to play in the organization’s ability to get and keep a customer.

If this is true, then every discipline within your company is involved to greater or lesser extent in the activity of marketing, whether it’s acknowledged or not.

Attracting and retaining customers will happen in direct proportion to the organization’s ability to operate fully in service of customer needs and wants. If your company ultimately exists to get and keep customers then increasingly this requires not only a single-minded focus on user aspiration, but also a robust frame for corporate citizenship in an increasingly issue-driven business environment.

Sustainability is a generational-level challenge that will influence every aspect of how you plan and succeed as a business

How well employee practices, operations, supply chain, manufacturing, and policies drive ESG and carbon footprint commitments is integral to successful marketing outcomes.

The marketing mission, therefore, isn’t just refining communications strategies focused on showcasing products and services, the entire proposition must embrace how the organization best operates in service of people and the greater good.

Higher Purpose is not a marketing program

Your company is a living, breathing entity. It is no longer just a machine designed to generate and sell products at a profit. It exists to be influential in your customers lives and to make a difference in addressing some of the most challenging conditions ever faced by humanity.

Your company’s mission, beliefs, values and purpose fly above the legacy goal of generating shareholder returns. When purpose and mission are viewed in this context, it contributes to a revelation that the entire enterprise informs how your offering is perceived. It impacts how consumers interact with your brands, what your narrative is and how you contribute in tangible ways not only to their lives but also the planet’s welfare.

A purpose-led organization will operate with greater clarity and intention. The mission acts like an anchor of deeper meaning where employees and customers alike join the business as advocates and believers, not just participants in a transactional process.

Getting and keeping the customer

For decades, the food and beverage business was largely driven by taste, price and convenience.

  • The technology to enhance and deliver taste and eating experience is refined and is now table stakes.
  • Price is a relative term that moves up and down in relation to a sense of economic prosperity or uncertainty.
  • Convenience has been flipped on its head as e-commerce facilitates friction-free shopping and culinary culture holds sway over 1970’s box and can food culture.
  • Consumers care more now about values, transparency, health and wellness, supply chain commitments, animal welfare, sustainability practices, empathy, unselfishness and employee treatment.

Attraction and engagement depends now on the company’s ability to participate as a positive force in their lives and society. To market itself successfully all corners of the organization should operate like a well-tuned symphony that authors credibility and trust.

So marketing is not a department. It is the nerve system of the organization constructed to operate in service of customer aspirations and goals. This will make strategic planning a team exercise to identify barriers to productive growth and remove them. In its place is a flatter organization that empowers team members who contribute to helping the entire enterprise meet its mission obligations and build relevance.

HERE is a link to download our two-page summary of what Emergent is and does. We encourage you to take a look and let us know if you are interested in exploring a fresh perspective on how your organization and brand can optimize its growth strategies. We can help you craft and tell an improved story.

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.

Shoppable video content

What happens when inspiration meets ability to buy?

November 10th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Digital ordering, Shoppable content, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “What happens when inspiration meets ability to buy?”

2022 will be the year of shoppable content strategy

We are witnessing a merger between the point of inspiration and the point of sale as interactive content takes root, transforming social channels and digital assets from conversations and guidance into shoppable platforms.

Let’s begin by agreeing the future of commerce is all about how to successfully leverage context. Imagine stories that bring to life real-world experiences of creativity and delicious accomplishment in the kitchen where readers can act in the moment to acquire the ingredients for an exciting new dish. Right there, right now. Suddenly this seamless experience unites a great story with instantaneous resolution of that desire to make it yourself.

Shopping in the moment of mindful engagement offers brands an extraordinary opportunity to convert context and useful coaching into a purchase – without any disruption in the midst of media consumption. Call it friction-free execution of a desire to wear or cook or try something you are reading about in real time. Click, done.

As the path to purchase gets shorter, the idea of convenience takes on new meaning. Read it or watch it. Think about it. Desire it. Do it. There’s no hopping off with intent to investigate later. New tech solutions allow brands to integrate shopping functions into the story. Emotional triggers then lead to a convenient sale.

  • Your brand or store social channel and content strategy takes on new power and impact as it connects directly to sell-through without any added cost to acquire and activate the customer relationship.

E-commerce is already driving the future. U.S. consumers alone will account for $933 billion in online sales over the course of 2021. What’s been missing is a way to connect the dots between stories that inform with an ability to pursue a recommended product all the way to checkout – right from the article or video being watched.

  • According to Popsugar, 67% of millennial women say they would like to instantly purchase products they see featured in useful and educational content.
  • 91% of consumers would prefer to consume interactive, visual content that is available to them on demand.

Walmart and Meredith marry commerce and content

Walmart has landed on an opportunity to connect their 220 million weekly shoppers with content provided by the Meredith family of media brands including Better Homes & Gardens, Parents, EatWell and Real Simple. Embedded in the collaboration will be visual search, voice-activated assistance, chatbots and AI-based meal planning services. E-blasts from BH&G feature Thanksgiving recipes where the ability to secure ingredients from Walmart sits alongside prep instructions. Perhaps most exciting is a new shoppable “bookazine” that will feature editor-selected recipes from allrecipes 30 minute meals linked to a Walmart shopping cart. Shoppers will be able to access these content streams and commerce opportunities across the Meredith portfolio.

Ted Baker entertains and entices with shoppable video

Trend forward UK-based fashion retailer Ted Baker has created shoppable videos that bring story, entertainment and commerce to their online platforms, allowing consumers to shop clothing featured in the video with point and click ease. Video is a powerful and interactive storytelling medium. Adding shoppable callouts to the video stream enables decisions in the moment to buy the featured clothing while the story entertains.

Goldbelly to become the “QVC of artisanal food”

Goldbelly’s unique e-commerce platform presents a curated assortment of artisanal products and kits from famous chefs, A-list restaurants, noteworthy delis and lauded food makers. The entire proposition, which has fared especially well during the pandemic, is getting a material boost with Goldbelly TV – a web site-based channel of shoppable productions helmed by the very famous chefs whose products are featured at the site. The videos are extraordinarily good, polished and entertaining – a worthy example of ‘doing it right’ to engage visitors in a mouthwatering culinary adventure with a flavorful happy ending. The videos amp up the value proposition of every product or kit featured and then brought to life.

Thrive Markets creates their first shoppable cookbook

These integrated solutions don’t exist solely in digital environments. Thrive Markets has produced Healthy Living Made Easy cookbook. Available at ThriveMarket.com, the book offers more than 60 recipes featuring better-for-you, healthy ingredients. A single touch “add to cart” QR code on each page connects the consumer from recipe to easy shopping fulfillment. The book features recipes from more than 20 trusted experts, chefs and influencers in the health and wellness arena including Mark Sisson (Primal Kitchen), Amanda Chantal Bacon (Moon Juice) and Melissa Urban (Whole30).

Engagement connected to fulfillment. Remarkable. Game changing. But also comes with an asterisk of vital strategic guidance.

Start with useful, valuable content and story

Much of the marketing media has lauded the emergence of shoppable content with gushing commentary about connecting social channels to a sale. Emphasis on sale mind you. Great care should be exercised here not to violate the ‘utility and conversational’ rules of engagement.

Beware the early days of social media when overly aggressive sales pitches from some brands unfortunately treated social channel interaction as simply another “interruption” style broadcast medium. The approach abused the concept of trusted social conversation.

Care should be observed in how stories are built in this new shoppable space.

Content that’s engaging and leans into a compelling narrative to inform, educate and guide consumers on their journey is vital to respecting the quality and value of a mutually beneficial relationship. If content retreats to long-play extended sales pitch format, then the shoppable aspect will turn on itself and turn off consumers.

  • The story matters. How it’s told matters. Connecting the context of a solution in the narrative to buying is a service. It’s done without the unnecessary hype of “and if you act now, absolutely free with your order…”

Context is everything here. When we read about someone’s personal journey that references a product or service to help enable their passion or fulfill an experience, we respect that recommendation as an honest bit of advice. Respected experts and chefs sharing their expertise at the stove is valued by the audience. When served alongside the ability to easily acquire recipe ingredients, a moment of creative inspiration is rightly fulfilled.

It’s a win and a win. Context is served. Loop is closed. Just awesome!

If this story serves as inspiration to add greater interactivity to your social and content marketing schemes, use this link to ask questions and start a dialogue with us on your shoppable-social future.

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

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

The return of brand investment

After a Decade of Decline, Brand Investment is Back

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

Consumers are human beings, not data points

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

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

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

Rethinking the path to business growth

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

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

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

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

Time to think differently!

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Guidance for your brand strategy planning effort

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

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

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

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

  1. Aligned values

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

2. Experience satisfaction

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

3. Memorable messaging

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

4. Your brand’s share of culture

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

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

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

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

News media guidelines

Five Steps to Successful Earned Media Outcomes

July 6th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, CMO, Earned media, editorial relevance, media placement, media relations, media strategy, Public Relations, publicity, storytelling 0 comments on “Five Steps to Successful Earned Media Outcomes”

There’s method, expertise and relevance involved…

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard a client express skepticism about the earned media channel of communication. Not because they don’t think it’s extremely powerful and effective – they do. Their tenuous belief has to do with a perception that seemingly random conditions lead to outcomes. That a great story secured is more of a happy accident and not, in reality, the outcome of a surgical, planned methodology.

Here we will debunk the media myth and explain the path to editorial glory. However, even though there are five steps and each one relevant to the successful outcome, the expertise involved to properly execute each one of these to maximum effect is also a byproduct of experience. Knowledge honed over years of working in the trenches to appreciate the nuance of what flies and dies in the reporting world. Let’s take a tour together on the path to editorial victory based on the fundamental understanding that great stories don’t fall like manna from heaven but are a result of a strategic process.

Granted you can’t buy legitimate editorial coverage, so the entire proposition isn’t transactional (for the most part) – at least it isn’t for the blue-chip media properties where journalism and reporting rules hold sway. But that’s the beauty of it. Editorial media is a reporting environment, based on storytelling that emanates from inspection, examination, evaluation and consideration; thus, why it is far more valuable, effective and powerful than an ad.

The essential truths

It’s helpful to understand what separates the editorial wheat from the chaff.

  • A ’story’ that’s not really a story won’t get told – truth to anyone looking at the reporting medium with clarity. The fundamental story idea you start with is the lynchpin to outcomes. How the story concept is constructed has a lot to do with editorial interest, relevance and value. Great reporters can see a great story unfold.
  • Story concepts built on self-promotion looks like advertising and thus why editors and reporters suggest contacting the ad department. When the story isn’t really there to benefit the media viewers/readers, reporters sense that immediately.
  • When you speak in editorial terms, with material that respects the editorial paradigm of inspection, examination and reporting, you can earn a conversation with editorial gatekeepers. This is where seasoned experience pays off most often.

Press releases are invitations to stories, not stories in themselves. The facts are most releases are devoid of a story, contain too much self-promotional, non-essential attribution and aren’t interesting. Media material is needed and valued when it’s done right. If it walks and talks like a story worth telling then you have something.

Five key ingredients to better non-paid media outcome

  1. Frame the larger story

Where you start is connected to where you will inevitably finish. The story concept is key. If you are planning a new product launch for example, the story isn’t the product launch. Rather it is placed within a larger context about trends, reports, studies and cultural shifts where a larger problem is being solved by the product – residing within a broader context.

  • Is there new technology involved that falls out of a growing trend in consumer behavior and need?
  • Is there a societal benefit or consequence that brings value to how people live, prosper, grow or succeed in some way?
  • Is a higher purpose connected to the company that is being served by this launch, are you bringing a new idea or solution to sustainability and climate impacts for example?
  • Is there a relationship between your product and a health and wellness outcome that benefits peoples’ lives or helps them overcome a barrier to personal growth?

Bottom line – find the larger story and outline how these parts fit together to create a better whole. Supporting studies and quantitative research can be powerful tools here if you can prove the condition is important and meaningful to consumers’ lives.

2. Do your homework

What do we know about the reporting world? For one, editors and reporters need trusted quote-able sources to do their jobs. The executive in charge of marketing or brand cannot be the only source cited in a story worth telling. What subject matter experts can be enlisted to help placed credible context around the problem you are solving?

Are there real people, not paid endorsers, who’ve had experiences with the product and found value in the outcomes of using it that reinforce the larger context of problem-to-solution?

Can you identify studies and reports from independent sources that lay the factual foundation for a cultural or societal shift you are addressing? Please note if it’s a study you paid for then its value cred is diminished right out of the gate (not entirely but take note).

When you are able to supply the reporter with respected third-party sources and experts that corroborate and verify what you are saying, you’ve accomplished two important things: one, you are able to help shape the story outcomes; and two, you are helping the reporter who is always under time constraints to do their job more successfully. Win and win.

3. Pick your targets wisely

The days of press release spray-and-pray are over. This technique is an old-school hedge-your-bet move by some publicists who attempt to win on a quantity game, assuming that some percentage of media receiving material will somehow run the story. Those days are gone.

The path to wider coverage begins with bellwether, respected media properties that tend to be influential to other channels (national print to TV). Moving the story along a planned continuum is a smarter play. Hope is never a strategy.

Where you take the story has a lot to do with where the reporter has been before. What media are likely to be interested in this story within its larger context? You can determine that in part by understanding the audience they serve and what will be inherently valuable to them in serving their readers/viewers.

Which reporters are likely to resonate to your concept/idea? If you do the heavy lifting to understand what they’ve published previously you may find a pattern of interest where you can draw lines of relevance from previous work.

4. Magic of vertical build

The industry trades that cover your category are a great place to start to frame the story elements and while doing so create evidence the angle has merit, reporting legs and is worthy of being told. Trade placements are not considered competitive to larger media properties, rather it serves as helpful background and elevates confidence in the story bona fides.

A stepped strategy that begins in trade channels is a strong game plan as you move up the editorial food chain to media with a larger, broader audience.

5. Editorial syntax in everything you do

If it looks like a story and walks like a story then it’s a story. When you create supporting material to take your idea out into the reporting world, it needs to respect editorial sensibility. If you truly understand how reporters would treat the subject and prepare your backgrounding materials in a way that screams you understand the rules and how they do their job, you earn respect right at the front door if inquiry.

So much of what editors and reporters see each day is self-promotional and never served in the context of a bigger story concept. They are required to wade through, identify and separate what is useful from what is not. Most won’t do it and thus why the pitch never materializes as a published piece.

If you want a reporter to respect you, listen to you, then serve the story up in a frame that bristles with editorial savvy and states, obviously, that you know them, their world, their audience and how they will likely treat the story themselves.

Too often story material is created to please the internal approvers because it sounds like an ad and tells the key messages directly, and without any editorial context around it. Looks good on paper, but in reality the release may fall flat on its face once in the hands of those who report rather than promote.

It’s tougher than it looks

All of this work is a bit like a symphony of well-crafted components that serve to anchor a story in the greater good and embed success in the effort rather than impede it. The paint-by-numbers approach of release generation to spray-and-pray distribution is truly a walk down the pathway of a loose dice roll to any tangible media outcome.

Better in the end to be strategic about how this great work is conducted and be patient with a process that has more moving parts. Inevitably it will position you for greater earned media success in the long run.

The relationship-building nuances of becoming a trusted source for real news with reporters are inexorably linked to achieving media objectives. Seasoned experience is required because you must have been at bat a more than few times, learned the differences between good and bad, before you understand what to do and what to avoid.

Simply said, reporters know if you know the drill.

If you think you need a fresh approach to non-paid, earned media outcomes use this link to initiate an informal conversation. We promise an interesting, useful dialogue.

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.

Credibility and Partnerships Lead Marketing Success

June 3rd, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, Brand trust, change, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital disruption, Earned media, Influencers, Partnerships, Programmatic, Retargeting, Social media, Social proof, Transparency 0 comments on “Credibility and Partnerships Lead Marketing Success”

Decline of digital advertising reflects consumer trust implosion

If there’s one true north to guide marketing best practices in the era of consumer control, it is this: never lose sight of the human being you wish to court and retain as a user. According to global market research firm Ipsos, 69 percent of consumers no longer trust advertising, especially digital forms. Why has digital advertising fallen so hard and fast? A combination of algorithm driven pummeling that makes the entire experience annoying, followed by the rise of ad blindness (your ad is scenery and nothing more) and blockers, amplified by general decline of brand trust as consumers instead seek out verifiable and credible independent sources for guidance on which products to buy.

What lies at the base of conventional ad solutions is the absence of any real relationship- creating mechanism. So we ask the defining question – does acquiring awareness constitute the driver of a reliable, meaningful consumer-to-brand relationship? The answer is a resounding NO. Buying perceived digital engagement is a false promise. There are better and more effective ways to build business. Hold on while we take you to a new way of thinking, planning and operating.

We have entered a new era in marketing powered by earning authentic relationships with consumers built on trust. This new paradigm is fueled through creating authentic, personal, helpful, useful, valuable content. In this article we will reveal the formula for real connection, real relationships that deliver growth and retention of highly engaged brand fans and ambassadors.

First, we will explain how a digital ad frenzy led to rapid expansion of online ad spending, now tracking a downward spiral as consumers run as fast as they can away from it.

Digital ad magic and stars in marketers’ eyes

Perhaps the most impressive point about the emergence of digital advertising was the newfound ability to measure clicks to assess engagement outcomes. Followed closely by the deployment of cookies to track online behaviors and thus work to tie impressions to conversions.

For the gardening products brand, instead of buying 100 million impressions from Home and Garden that may include consumers who don’t have any affinity for gardening, you could intentionally focus on buying 100 million impressions aimed at avid horticulture fans. Sounds enticing and so we’re off to the digital races.

New types of intrusion emerge

The arrival of programmatic tech to unleash algorithm-sourced buying brought automation to precision audience and behavioral targeting. Retargeting permitted advertisers to follow consumers around the Internet like a persistent stalker. In the midst of this evolution cost declines led to a rapid fire, constant drumbeat of repetitive ad interruptions. Now you see me and now you see me again, and over here, and there and everywhere. Don’t you love me? Nope, sorry.

People live their lives online to acquire three things: information, entertainment and social connection. E-commerce serves alongside to digitize transactions and satisfy the ultra-convenience opportunity of armchair consumption. That said no one wants to be bombarded constantly with disruptive ads and popups.

Apple nails the consumer sentiment towards tracking and disruption!

Consumer-led backlash follows rapid rise of social proof

According to eMarketer, consumer trust in digital ads has dropped to 38 percent. A Hubspot analysis reveals that only 7 percent of consumers say they intentionally click on a digital ad while 34 percent say any click on a banner ad was a mistake.

The antidote to digital disruption and interruption is the emergence of user-generated testimonial content – said another way, users who help users with first-hand reports of experiences and assessments of products and services. Alongside this development is the expansion of category experts, subject matter professionals and influential tastemakers who are speaking on behalf of brands in a more authentic and humanized voice.

Independent social proof is respected by consumers for the very reason they trust the voices of peers before they will believe the assertions and claims of digital ads and brand self-promotion. Social channels can be an amazing, powerful, effective resource for advocacy and ambassadorship when managed with an eye towards encouraging user sharing.

Too often these days social is deployed as another broadcast channel for product promotion rather than cultivating a community of like-minded people who share their own experiences and outcomes. Social can be a far more credible and believable mechanism to validate what you want consumers to trust and understand about your products. You just have to be intentional in how that channel resource is developed.

The new marketing eco-system built on trust

There are four key pillars to successful marketing outcomes at a time when attempting to buy awareness through conventional ad platforms is falling away. They include:

  1. Marketing partnerships: B-to-B colabs, media-driven content alliances and influencers
  2. Social channel refinement: engaging passionate advocates as UGC ambassadors
  3. Earned media: PR-driven outreach through editorial media channels
  4. Branded content creation: built on an education-centric model, not a promotional one.

Partnerships fuel brand growth

  • Partnerships with aligned brands work because they add value to the consumer experience and make intuitive sense. When Quantas Airlines and Airbnb team up to “Fly there. Live there.” they combine assets that create a seamless traveler experience. Similarly Spotify aligns with Ticketmaster to amplify the fan experience from digital music to live performances with click-thru simplicity. These combinations work because they are complementary, sensible and add user value.
  • Right now the triopoly of Facebook, Google and Amazon together control 90 percent of digital advertising inside their walled gardens. As a result premium media channels are cultivating and expanding their content partnership opportunities with brands to build podcasts, newsletters, videos and other tools. These colabs allow brands to gain access to their audiences and tell stories with the imprimatur of the media brand alongside yours.
  • Influencers are a valuable resource of endorsement from citizen category experts who bring their audiences to the table for colabs and reviews. Fabletics activewear brand partners with lifestyle influencer Marla Catherine. The brand accesses her 1.6 million subscriber YoutTube channel to connect fitness fashion endorsements to their online shop platform. A win and a win.

There are rules here with respect to vetting influencers that make strategic sense and align with your brand – all based on building trust and relevant connections with consumers.

Social channel strategy

Brands should encourage user sharing of content and experiences. Developing an ambassador program that links back to periodic content creation helps ensure a flow of useful, credible posts that tell the brand story through the eyes of enthusiastic believers. Amplify this with category expert voices and content that offers guidance, coaching and instruction. Yes, there’s room for your BOGO promo but that should not be the leading voice in your social channel calendar.

Earned media

Editorial coverage of your brand takes advantage of the consumer’s belief that editorial media is an unbiased third-party channel that reports more than advocates. HBO satirist John Oliver recently took TV chat show and news programs to task for fake editorial segments that were paid for and passed along scurrilous information to viewers about unreliable products. Frankly, this pollution of church and state type separation between ad and editorial isn’t good for anyone.

Branded content creation

The voice of your brand should be founded on a relationship-building platform that emphasizes coaching, guidance and enablement that’s relevant to the consumer’s lifestyle journey. YETI coolers does this beautifully with outdoor adventure videos that mirror the lifestyle interests of their core users via compelling, authentic even cinematic storytelling. If you are a food brand and can help users with exploration and creativity in the kitchen, you have a useful voice in their lives. This is how relationships are built – through help over hype.

Trust is the anchor

In a world devoid of trust, consumers want to connect with sources of information and guidance that puts their best interests first, is centered around credible voices (their own) and provides value that enhances their experiences. If you devote energy and attention to cultivating this trust forward marketing eco-system, you will be on the path to authentic, sustainable relationship creation. The outcome is reliable engagement, connection and importantly, sustainable business growth.

So stop chasing eyeballs and start winning hearts!

If this post inspires you to consider fresh thinking on creating more effective marketing outreach, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

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.

Agency services and resources

The Services You Really Need From Your Agency

May 19th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Insight, Navigation, storytelling 0 comments on “The Services You Really Need From Your Agency”

The highest and best use of a strategic resource

If you were to boil down comments we get from clients on what they like about our work, why they entrust us with their marketing needs, a recurring theme pops up. They lean in on strategic guidance and informed perspective about how best to grow their brand and business.

Tactics like social, earned, owned and paid media all matter, and we have a proprietary approach to deploying them. However, the nuts and bolts from agency to agency tend to be common. So the real acid test of value falls into an area we describe as expert guidance. Clients are looking for transformational growth and strength from their brand value propositions. Given that objective, it’s understandable why research shows clients’ top priority for services they expect to gain advantage by outsourcing starts with strategic brand guidance.

Increasingly, clients believe if strategy isn’t dialed in correctly, everything that follows in outreach and sales support is a dice roll. So true. The fundamentals of category design, brand differentiation and positioning, brand narrative, persona analysis, key messaging, brand narrative and customer journey mapping all feed the right and most compelling story to tell.

  • Without user relevance there can be no user resonance. More marketing budgets are wasted because the foundational strategies and consumer insights are not properly dialed-in and the effort fails to engage. Just because you’re able to drive media awareness with a generous budget doesn’t guarantee a winning outcome in the market you serve.

Our value almost always starts with insights we’ve honed over years of working in various categories – insights on consumer behavior, preferences and quirks on the path to purchase. It stands to reason if you have deep understanding of what core users care about, then you also have an opportunity to create content that’s meaningful and useful to them.

Brands are no longer sellers. The privilege of a consumer relationship must be earned through enabling consumer lifestyle interests and aspirations, operating as a valued partner on their life journey. When the relationship is restricted to transactional occasions, it casts the value entirely on product outcomes instead of cultivating a deeper bond and meaning. Suddenly, it’s harder to compete on anything except price. That’s due in part to the leveling up in production technologies and supply chain quality making it nearly impossible to maintain over time any kind of meaningful technical superiority.

Your brand is your secret sauce, and its emotional connectivity means everything to the success of your customer relationships and value. When you are hyper focused only in brand technology and processes, you can end up working at cross purposes with who is really running the business – your consumer.

Guidance on higher purpose, deeper meaning

How is it that some brands enjoy a solid foundation of passionate consumer advocacy and ambassadorship that enables the holy grail of marketing – word of mouth and social proof? Those brand minders know the business must invoke a higher purpose that transcends the product itself. People want something important to believe in.

Having a fantastic product experience is now table stakes. Competitive advantage lies in how brands align themselves with the beliefs, values and lifestyle interests their core users hold dear. Thus, higher purpose isn’t a nice to do, it is indeed mission critical.

Emergent started exploring higher purpose strategy years ago and we’ve become experts in how this strategic platform is best developed for client brands through our unique Brand Sustainability Analysis process. A stronger brand and inspired community of users results from having more to offer than simply a product inside a package. Want to be more meaningful to consumers? Then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.

This work comprises the core value proposition we bring to client marketing planning, ahead of the creative work to build compelling, powerful and emotionally resonant brand stories. This is all informed by a brand voice having more going for it than ad-centric cleverness in talking up features and benefits.

Given formulations, recipes, ingredient strategies are ultimately not all that wildly different brand to brand, if the brand voice is focused solely on product attributes, it inadvertently feeds sameness and commoditization in the category. The Beyond and Impossible burger formulations bare similarity as plant-based meat so the story instead is about taste indulgence and sustainability bona fides.

A touch for emotional storytelling

Words matter. Emotion sits at the front door of engagement for the very reason people are feeling creatures who think, not thinking creatures who feel. Emotion is a key driver of actions taken by consumers on the path to purchase because the non-linear, sub-conscious side of the brain is operating the levers of behavior.

  • Knowing this, we build message maps with emotive words and stories that play to feelings more than facts. It is the feeling consumers have in the presence of your brand that tips them to purchase rather than analytical, logic-based arguments.

Imagine the pet food company that shares the emotional stories of pet transformation – pet lives that have been impacted and improved through the higher quality food they are ingesting. Compare that pound for pound with fact-based messaging on protein percentages or nutritional specsmanship and the impact on real engagement becomes crystal clear. Emotion wins every time.

Working to amplify symbolism and signaling

Purchases these days are largely symbolic flags of what consumers want the outside world to believe about them and what they care about. The symbols you are using on packaging, in your advertising and content become the visual shorthand consumers are looking for based on what they believe is important. For example:

  • Sustainability
  • Dietary outcomes like weight management and energy
  • Health and wellness

People are visual creatures so use of visual symbolism on package, at the store shelf, in the web site are triggers that offer a form of signaling the consumer holds onto that aligns with their desires and preferences. Mapping a symbolism platform should be part of your marketing partner’s scope of work.

Brand experiences

Actions speak louder than words and for that reason, brand experiences become a significantly important tool in bringing the brand closer to users.

  • Culinary events, for example, allow people to get hands on with their passion for creativity, taste experiences and indulgences.
  • Health, wellness and fitness events amplify the interest in taking better care of one’s self and investing in self-improvement.
  • Music is incredibly powerful for a brand association in moments of deep emotional connection.
  • Educational events that provide useful lifestyle guidance or remove perceived risk through sampling lead to brand bonding moments.

To the extent brands have an opportunity to act as consumer coach and guide, it puts the brand in the right role of advisor rather than brand storytelling hero – the position rightfully owned by the consumer. The brand is Yoda to your user Luke Skywalker.

Trust creation and risk removal

Consumer purchase behaviors are 99.99999 percent of the time informed by their overwhelming need to avoid making a bad decision. No matter what you say, consumers will stay away if they perceive risk is at stake in a purchase.

Risk avoidance is a strong barrier to trial. Removing risk involves the following:

  • Using the voices of outside credible experts to validate what you want people to believe.
  • Bringing the powerful verification of real people testimonials in social channel posting.
  • Familiarity bolsters trust, so awareness building is part of this process.
  • Consistency in your behaviors and policies that place the customer first – they need to believe you are always acting in their best interests.
  • Honesty is partially a voice and language effort but must be informed by a willingness to own mistakes – this is hard to do but it humanizes the brand.

Trust strategy should be an integral and fundamental component of strategic planning.

This eco-system of services, resources and programs comprises the highest and best use of your agency partnership. It might seem odd not to include excellence in communications tactics such as earned and social media. But for the most part agencies with a strong track record should excel in varying degrees with these fundamental practice areas. The work profiled above, however, is what separates the average from the exceptional and deploys the most powerful tools available to build brand value and consumer engagement.

If you are currently looking for fresh ideas and perspective for your business, use this link to open an informal conversation about your needs.

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

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

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