Posts in brand advocacy

Breaking the chains of interruption marketing

Breaking Free from the Handcuffs of Intrusion Marketing

June 22nd, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Breaking Free from the Handcuffs of Intrusion Marketing”

Embrace a new paradigm for successful brand storytelling…

In the history of modern marketing there have never been more ways to reach consumers. Yet it’s also never been harder to connect and engage with them. For decades brands have reflexively relied on various forms of intrusion to confront consumers with brand self-reverential, promotional messages. This approach is now widely rejected and avoided by its intended audience. Read on to learn the antidote to engagement misfires.

  • It’s truly hard to admit, but: “the unquestioned language of (traditional) marketing sabotages the stories we try to tell.” – Jonah Sachs, Winning the Story Wars.

People have changed – they want to be part of something greater than themselves. Yet even though the elements of powerful storytelling have been employed for centuries, it is largely ignored by marketing tropes preoccupied with promoting products to consumers leveraging the politics of fear, inadequacy, anxiety and status-seeking – often served with a generous helping of narrative vanity, puffery and insincerity.

It’s time to end the decades of antagonism between marketing and its audiences

  • We have a chance now to step beyond interruption marketing to build lasting, a more meaningful relationship with consumers that is grounded in deeper meaning, inspiration and values.
  • We are free today to build new stories that get noticed, create emotional affinity and maintain credibility in a world desperate to secure meaning and starved for transparency.

However, the drive for true engagement requires a shift in thinking and approach that initially can feel counterintuitive to the foundational principle of marketing as a sales generator. After all, aren’t we supposed to sell to earn a sale? Our tradition-bound way of thinking and operating leads us to believe the path to business growth is paved with pushing product feature and benefits at people. We just need to dress it up with some creative artifice of humor or entertainment as storyline palate pleaser – then, down the hatch, right? Sorry, but no. Consumers have figured out how to sidestep and ignore all of this.

Yet even with the self-awareness of this consumer engagement shift, like the hamster returning again and again to the wheel, the vast majority of brand outreach in CPG and retail sectors employs the same approach – now only digitized to fit into new media forms and channels. This form of selling was honed during the analog media control and persuasion era of the 1960’s and 70’s. It remains entrenched.

The electronic fake-out

Technology-led tools lead us to assume there are algorithm-based, digital solutions that virtually guarantee the selling message penetrates to the right audience in the right place at the right time simply by deploying the latest platform. We need only to flip the switch and boom, we strike marketing gold with clicks and views – even though people routinely drop out of the engagement in mere seconds and carts are abandoned by an endless river of distractions.

The essential truth about today’s consumer

We are shifting from a consumption-driven culture to one founded on a maturing view that the best things in life aren’t *things*. Instead, people want to transform themselves and the world around them. Here it is in sharp relief: we reach for deeper meaning and enablement from the brands we care about. We want to be inspired by beliefs and values that matter.

In short people are ready to embrace:

Optimism over fear

Sacrifice over greed

Citizenship over consumption

A recent advertising effectiveness study tracking the new-found marketing focus on sustainability revealed that brands producing sustainability ads focused on themselves – to tout their eco-bona fides – did not score nearly as well in engagement and recall as brands that created ads to inspire their users to join the sustainability mission and contribute to the greater good. That means substance over selfishness gains an audience.

Here’s a new value system brands can adopt as a core directional litmus test for improved communications, engagement and brand story themes addressing:

Wholeness – moving beyond self-centeredness

Mastery – learning, competence and the struggle to improve

Justice – investing in, structuring a moral center

Depth – examining life and its complexities and possibilities

Simplicity – understanding the essence of things

Beauty – recognizing and experiencing aesthetic pleasure

Truth – the polar-opposite of falsehood

Uniqueness – mining creativity and non-conformity

Playfulness – celebrating joy and life experiences

Creating cinematic, powerful brand stories

What do we know about Luke Skywalker in Star Wars? He was a seemingly ordinary young man who was drawn out of his comfort zone to follow a path that eventually led to epic heroism. He had doubts and insecurities. There were flaws to overcome. Everything he needed to succeed was already inside him, yet he clearly needed coaching to understand that.

A hero is someone who pursues higher level values, willing to sacrifice in service of others, who is pulled to adventure through a higher calling. Traumatic circumstances pushed Luke forward. Eventually he would break free of his fears. He encountered a mentor who would help him on his journey and give him the tools to succeed. Mentors act to help redirect will and strengthen the heroes resolve and confidence. Yoda helped Luke become a better person, a more skilled Jedi, a confident participant on a perilous path to fulfillment and redemption.

  • Every human being wants to be the hero of their own life journey. Your brand storytelling must always position your consumer as the hero of the story, not the brand. The brand’s role is always that of mentor, guide, enabler and coach to the consumer on their journey. Your content goal is to provide wisdom and tools to help the hero succeed.

It’s important to note great stories always include conflict, overcoming failures, the presence of a villain, danger, adventure, failure, improvement, empowerment and achievement.

When your brand stands for something, employs a belief system and is driven by higher purpose, you create the opportunity for transcendence. Your storytelling can move beyond an inward focus on self-promotion and touting product features, to celebrating your customer and all they aspire to do.

  • You can inspire them.
  • Coach and instruct them.
  • Enable tools and experiences.
  • Help them embrace the greater good and building a better future.

Marketing, then, is about sharing core values. This is the secret to creating engaging stories and an improved relationship with your users.

Yes, this isn’t easy!

To create a story telling platform that works, study is required of your best customers, their lives, loves, ambitions, fears, concerns, wants and desires.

Your brand’s language, voice and story must embed your brand beliefs, values, vision and higher purpose (you need to stand for something).

How this is expressed should be grounded in a clear understanding of your brand archetype (Pioneer, Rebel, Captain, etc.) and how that translates into a narrative unique to who and what you are.

The best storytelling techniques include the fundamentals of all great tales including tension, conflict, villains, drama, and the hero’s move to overcome odds, rise to the calling and win in the end. This story arc is as old as recorded history and remains relevant today.

Emerging food tech and a drama of the ages

Consider the vast array of new food technologies emerging right now, grabbing the attention of investors in their quest to reimagine how food is created. There’s a villain in here called climate chaos alongside the legacy food system actors that help perpetuate an existential threat to our existence and quality of life. The consumer needs/wants/requires a mentor and inspiration on the path to enablement and efforts to help rescue and change the world.

  • There’s just sooo much here to work with. Virtually any product category or retail business will benefit from embracing the consumer’s desire to seek a deeper truth and to be part of something greater than themselves (sustainability is a case in point).

When you do this your customers can become believers, followers, advocates and ambassadors because they embrace what you stand for and how your brand helps them participate in a profound mission.

This is the magic behind stories that work, that deepen the brand’s voice and draw people close. Or you can continue to self-promote product features and benefits to a world increasingly not interested in this for the very reason the brand then positions itself as hero of the story rather than the customer. Competing with consumers for the hero role creates an instant disconnect and a new barrier to any engagement.

If you think your brand will benefit from a refreshed approach to story strategy and content creation, use this link to open an informal dialogue 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.

Human behavior and marketing

Mapping the Intersection of Psychology and Brand Communication

June 6th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, Brand trust, engagement, Social proof, storytelling 0 comments on “Mapping the Intersection of Psychology and Brand Communication”

Don’t overlook the human in front of you

We’re going to peel the onion on how people think and operate. We’ll show you how this impacts optimizing brand communications strategy to vastly improve engagement and results from your investments in consumer and stakeholder outreach.

But first, the state of the state

It seems inevitable, like a law of physics gone bad, that the majority of CPG and retail marketing is inwardly focused on the brand or product specifics. Communication strategies spin around self-promotion, and a belief that brands must “prove” their value with analytical arguments. As such, marketers are fixated on what has been invented, added or stirred in to the product to “deserve” the purchase or shop. This approach is founded on a view that the hard evidence, pushed even harder at the audience, makes the product or retailer more desirable.

But this is a mistake. Like lies by omission, this approach glosses over the profound truths we know about how people think and behave. Doesn’t it make more sense to design brand communication that resolves the inherent barriers to change people raise, rather than pushing proof points to an audience that begins each day with risk aversion sewn into their DNA?

Neophobia is everywhere

“Fear of anything new” lives in varying degrees with most people. We are, after all, creatures of habit for the very reason people abhor the discomfort of perceived risk in making bad decisions. Staying the course with the tried-and-true takes burning any mental calories out of the equation through default to the familiar.

However, for any brand or business, launching new products, services, ideas are fundamental to generating incremental growth. With resistance baked into human behavior change, it only makes sense to work backwards from how people think to acknowledge the human in front of us in our story.

The driving force behind decisions is…

People are on a constant scan of their surroundings for information that affirms their own point of view. We call this confirmation bias. People see what they expect to see and conclude what they expect to conclude. Try asking a Coke drinker to switch to Pepsi – not likely and a sampling will simply confirm their bias about taste expectations. The importance of insight research to better understand what people already believe can’t be overstated. Confirmation bias is foundational to the human condition and needs to be weighed on the path to optimal strategy.

How do marketers answer risk and bias?

Changing minds and hearts is an invitation to trust creation. Important to note here that trust is a feeling and not a rational experience. It emerges when we sense the brand is driven by values and beliefs, similar to our own, that transcend self-gain. This is the essence of our longing for reciprocity, honesty and integrity – qualities people resonate to and respect.

Specific considerations from human behavior insight come to play in the strategic plan.

Narrow your targeted consumer cohorts to those whose beliefs are closer to the desired opinion or viewpoint you are trying to secure. There is a temptation especially at a launch to go wide and attempt to appeal to everyone. That is a riskier approach. Better to identify the audience closest to your proposition, those most likely to embrace your offer because it is seen as a pain killer. A pain killer is a product your refined audience needs to have now, right now, rather than a nice to have maybe someday.

But what about those consumers who are further afield and more difficult to draw in? Here are three principles to consider when you have a steeper hill to climb.

  • Shorten/reduce the ask – how can you create a stepping-stone approach of a slower, steady path to change that comes at people in chunks and stages. Meatless Monday is a great example of modifying the ask. You don’t need to convert to a plant-based diet entirely, just one day a week opens the door to trial and experience without trying to force wholesale lifestyle change.
  • Switching the field – look for places where like-mindedness already exists, where your brand values and beliefs align. This “unsticking point” can help move your audience closer to you by riding the wave of shared view and aspiration. People are more comfortable with what is familiar to them.
  • Adoption psychology – how easy and frictionless can you make trial? How can you reduce the costs of trial? How do you remove any sense of risk in taking a bite-size swing at what’s on offer? Ease of returns maybe. Years ago, Zappos as an early player in e-commerce created free shipping and free returns as a path to making shoe purchases acceptable and desirable when customers couldn’t try a pair before buying. Now we take that free ship offer for granted, but in its day, that big move raised business results literally overnight.

Here are rules to observe in risk reduction:

Rule of Similarity

We will believe “people like me” before accepting the assertions and claims made by brands. The opportunities for engagement increase substantially when people are in communities of like-minded souls who share the same needs and concerns.

Curate your social channels to identify audiences most likely to resonate and share similar points of view with each other. This narrowcasting approach is more powerful than ‘all things to all people’.

Rule of Validation

The more risky the ask, the more verification will be required. The use of multiple outside third party, credible voices can help make your communication convincing and validating. We did this for a financial services company whose primary customers were banks – a conservative, risk averse audience if there ever was one. We created a video covering key issues of concern on the path to acceptance. We did this through candid, unscripted interviews with 10 existing banker customers from varying markets and business models. These executives affirmed through their own experiences what we wanted potential bank prospects to believe. The sheer number of voices, the similarity of backgrounds and values, the humanization and unscripted tone made the entire communication more credible, powerful. The outcome was astounding to quicky step bank decision makers beyond perceived risk and resistance.

Rule of Concentration

We often get asked, which is better – a heavy-up concentration of media activity over a smaller geographic area vs. a broader but lighter outreach over a larger distribution territory? The answer is concentration is always best to help confront the desired audience with multiple messages from multiple sources. This generates a bandwagon effect that suggests to the audience, “wow, this might be important” and thus worthy of further investigation. It may take longer to address a larger geographic launch this way, but it will also be more effective.

We often convey to clients that Emergent is in the brand storytelling business. That’s certainly true. But if we step back and look at the integration of strategy to story and what we know about behavior, it might be more accurate to say we’re in the risk removal business.

We utilize our knowledge of psychology and neuroscience to help create interest, change and trial by getting past the elaborate risk barriers every human manifests. We reduce risk by mining our client brands’ higher purpose and values alignment (trust) — while delivering credible evidence and authoritative guidance that gives consumers permission to buy.

If you would like to talk in greater detail about how risk aversion impacts your business, use this link to start an informal get-acquainted conversation.

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

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

Sustainability transformation

Inevitable Truths to Accelerate Sustainability Transformation

May 19th, 2022 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, Carbon footprint, Climate Change, climate culture, storytelling, Sustainability, Transformation 0 comments on “Inevitable Truths to Accelerate Sustainability Transformation”

New website illuminates the changes and solutions ahead

The number of Americans who are passionate or concerned about sustainable choices in the food products they buy is rising. Rapidly. At the same time media are galvanizing around stories that report on the climate impacts from agriculture. These two conditions will fast-track the pace of change in consumer sustainability preferences and demands.

  • We are headed towards a tipping point when recognition of the role our food system plays in environmental impacts will prompt mandates for public policy changes, food production improvements and more sustainable brand choices.

The time is now to prepare for sustainability readiness as media, influence and culture shifts coalesce to push consumer sentiment forward to tangible behavior changes. We believe this will substantially impact your business strategies in the coming decade.

Two converging issues: carbon footprint visibility and supply chain realities

Supply chain emissions are, on average, 11.4 times higher than operational emissions.

The growing corporate uptake on ESG performance measurement started with ‘low hanging fruit’ evaluations of operational emissions (Scope 1). Then advanced to confront energy use (Scope 2). However, supply chain lifecycle analysis (Scope 3) will unearth the most salient and vital conditions that impact an organization’s true carbon footprint – and thus inform the most meaningful mitigation progress targets. You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are!

Industrial animal agriculture derived environmental impacts will become visible. In the food business, this is likely to influence brand and retailer decisions about your supply chain partners.

The food system reality check(mate)

Here’s relevant data that helps us understand why the significant cultural shifts are here.

  • Agriculture generally is responsible for anywhere from 24 to 30 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation systems combined.
  • According to the United Nations, 14.5 percent of those emissions can be attributed to meat production. The impacts of raising livestock for food are far reaching – from ruminant animals producing methane to land degradation, loss of biodiversity and over-consumption of limited freshwater resources.
  • Forty percent of the world’s available land is currently used for food production and of that, nearly 75 percent of it is dedicated to livestock farming. Rainforest conversion to livestock production is occurring at a shocking rate of an acre per second.
  • Today more than half of Americans think livestock production contributes to global warming “at least a little.” Only one in four believe beef contributes “a lot.” And those numbers decline slightly for dairy production.
  • However, awareness of these impacts is expanding and media attention on sustainability deficits and emissions in the food system are gaining momentum.
  • Currently 67 percent of Americans eat meat daily or a few times a week. Yet nearly every study we see points to growing consumer interest in adding more alternative proteins and plant-based foods to their diet. The reasons for these dietary modifications are swinging from health to environmental concerns.
  • The barriers to alternative protein adoption are price compared to legacy options, and taste compromise. Those two issues can be resolved by manufacturers through innovation, formulation improvement and cost reduction. As awareness of environmental impacts grows, adoption of new food sustainable categories will rapidly expand alongside it.
  • Studies suggest a shift to alternative protein sources could reduce emissions by 92 percent compared to raising livestock for food while reducing land use by up to 95 percent.
  • The United Nations warns we are running out of time before climate impacts and global warming exceed our ability to reverse it. At risk is the southern half of the earth and potential permanent loss of farmland rendered unsuitable for growing crops.

What does all of this mean to your business?

The time to get ahead of sustainability readiness best practices is here and now. Performance in this critical area creates important levers of competitive marketplace advantage. Why? Consumers are demanding sustainable choices. How this transition is handled strategically will have implications for future growth and brand relevance.

What brands and businesses need: guidance on sustainability readiness practices and support to level up improved strategies all the way through to the marketplace.

Today we announce brandsustainabilitysolution.com. Your online destination for information, thought leadership and support services to help meet and exceed consumers’ sustainability expectations in food, beverage and related retail categories.

  • We invite you to explore and learn more about the Brand Sustainability Solution™ platform. There, you can sign-up for our free Sustainable Business Update™ and access our free sustainability readiness self-assessment questionnaire that will provide a quick snapshot of where your business is today on the readiness path.

What’s at stake? The future of your business, brand relevance and the planet itself.

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 psychology of risk

Is the Psychology of Risk Factored Into Your Marketing?

February 3rd, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Is the Psychology of Risk Factored Into Your Marketing?”

Your customers are not analytical decision-making machines

When consumers approach a purchase decision, are they focused on the merits and benefits of what you’re offering? Research on human behavior confirms that other issues are dominating their judgements. Read on to find out what’s really happening.

  • You might agree marketing and business strategy that is informed with a clear understanding of the human being you want to reach is going to be massively more effective than efforts that don’t take into consideration what we now know about how people make choices.

Ground-breaking behavioral research conducted over decades by renowned psychologists Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman on their Theory of Regret, forever altered the false assumption that humans are rational and analytical – making decisions based on objective consideration of the facts.

Today we will unravel the mysteries of how people behave to provide you with clear guidance on what the customer is actually thinking and doing.

People will pay a premium to avoid – wait for it – regret

According to scientific research, consumers’ 99.99999 percent of the time are working to sidestep making bad choices. Tversky and Kahneman’s analysis of choice decisions demonstrated that people focus on minimizing risk in order to reduce the chances of any regret. Said another way, people are not seeking to maximize benefits, instead they are trying to prevent or duck an unfavorable outcome. Boom.

  • Most marketing activity is based on presenting gains, wins, benefits to an audience pre-occupied with trying to determine if what’s on offer is a gamble (path to potential regret) or a sure thing.

Kahneman expressed regret theory in real-world terms this way: The nearer you get to achievement, the greater the regret people encounter if you fail to achieve it. The more control you believe you have over a gamble, the greater the regret experienced if it turns out badly.

People reflexively face regret for:

  • What they have chosen
  • What they wish they hadn’t chosen
  • What they should have chosen

What’s truly operating on the path to a purchase decision can be observed in any hesitation or reluctance (abandoned cart) to take an action. How the consumer is looking at the options before them follows their attempt to determine –

  • What is a sure thing
  • What is a probable gain
  • What is actually a gamble in order to secure a gain

When choosing between a sure thing and a perceived gamble, a person’s desire to elude loss exceeds the desire to secure a gain!!

Not surprising, people will pay handsomely for certainty. They will take the sure thing over the perceived dice roll every time. Thus, the power and impact of a well-defined brand with deep equity, trust and a strong value proposition.

So what exactly is this loss people seek to avoid?

A loss occurs when a person believes they’ve ended up worse off than their reference point. A reference point is a state of mind based on the status quo, or a standard defined from where they started. Please note, a gain or loss will always be connected to how a problem is presented. Changing the description of a situation can make a gain seem like a loss and vice versa.

Implications to marketing planning and strategy

A consumer world balanced on the pin of regret avoidance is a cry for certainty, surety, belief, trust and confidence.

  • What risk reduction tools are you using to erase loss while canceling potential regret?

It’s important to proactively manage the conditions, language and perceptions that influence consumer belief.  You want to erase uncertainty and the possibility of a bad outcome.

Where to start?

Descriptions – Language matters, how a problem or situation is framed can help or hinder the assessment a customer is inevitably making about certainty and risk avoidance.

Social proof – Consumers find claims of performance and outcome made by companies to be less trustworthy. They will believe their peers before they will believe you. Thus, social channels that behave more like communities where sharing is encouraged, perform the valuable service of offering assurance that what is promised is indeed consistently delivered.

Familiarity – If you’re working on the next great leap in food technology beware of pushing the science wizardry too hard instead of focusing on the more familiar, comfortable and assurance-building principles of food, nutrition and culinary cred for a product consumers will put in their bodies. People are wary of anything that appears to be too far away from the familiar territory of foods they understand and believe are real, safe as well as satisfying (taste).

Transparency – The more you disclose about how you do what you do, the more comfortable people get. This feeds the certainty of knowing exactly what’s in the product you make and where ingredients came from, while also speaking to integrity and honesty – two qualities people believe are sorely lacking in business behaviors.

Third party validation – Most product categories have identifiable subject matter experts and influential voices that bring credibility and cachet to the messaging table. If you turn them into promotional shills, their value is lost. Let the expert voices make independent evaluations of what you do and how you do it. Give them room to report on their observations and let the credibility flow from a respected voice that isn’t your own.

Verifiable assurance – For a cheese client experiencing a high degree of adulteration and food fraud in their category, we created a trust mark backed by one of the most respected food labs in the nation. They were given free rein to acquire products at retail independently and submit them to a battery of tests that verified the veracity of how the products were made when compared to the Federal standard of identity. It was proof the products were genuine, authentic, real and what was represented on the label was indeed accurate and truthful. Trust marks and third-party validation can bring another level of consumer confidence to the story being told.

Now you are aware that this universal human trait of risk avoidance is a dominant consideration for people on the path to purchase. Your objective, then, is to work accordingly to secure confidence, trust and belief in a manner that reduces or eliminates any perception of risk or uncertainty that might fuel consumer regret.

  • Do this, and you will answer what most often lies at the foundation of a disconnect for people who are unwilling to try your new product or store. Why? Because they see risk of a bad outcome if they don’t like it or concern it won’t deliver on their reference standard expectations.

Is it time to audit your marketing plans and messaging strategies to ensure the psychology of risk is fully addressed? If so, use this link to invite an informal conversation with a team of experts who understand the anatomy of trust creation.

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.

Sustainability Readiness

Companies are over-estimating sustainability readiness

December 8th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, Climate Change, climate culture, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, storytelling, Sustainability 0 comments on “Companies are over-estimating sustainability readiness”

Analysis reveals aspirations may mask reality

A summary analysis of recently completed sustainability readiness questionnaires has revealed a measurable disconnect for participating brands between their sustainability activity and authentic performance. Based on results scoring, brands responding to Emergent’s initial questionnaire routinely over-estimate current sustainability readiness conditions by an average of 25%, ahead of a reality-check discussion to pressure test the survey responses.

The first step in Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Solution program starts with answers to a Sustainability Readiness questionnaire. It is designed to establish a baseline understanding of where a brand or business currently sits on the readiness pathway.

The Sustainability Readiness questionnaire self-evaluation process is focused on four key areas of sustainability performance:

  1. Scientific, data informed review of carbon footprint and Lifecycle Analysis (LCA)
  2. Consumer insight research to determine what areas of sustainability solution and commitment are most important to brand consumers
  3. Establishing metrics to track business performance and outcomes of sustainability investments and commitments
  4. Marketing communications strategies and tactics to tell the brand sustainability readiness story to consumers and relevant stakeholders

Emergent analyzes the questionnaire responses and produces a readiness scoring report for review with the individual or team submitting the evaluation. Invariably through more detailed conversation around outcomes and existing company behaviors, policies and mitigation activities, a different picture begins to emerge!

Aspiration can skew reality

Sustainability is now one of the most significant transformational strategies impacting brand communication and business growth. It is a key driver of competitive marketplace advantage. Why? Because over 66% of consumers now care deeply about more sustainable choices in the products they buy. People have become aware of the connection between food production, food ingredients, and potential negative impacts on the environment.

As companies prioritize sustainability and seek to answer this cultural shift in consumer sentiment, the priority to make performance claims can at times color actual readiness status. The Brand Sustainability Solution process is designed to determine quantifiable carbon targets, mitigation policies and develop solutions to truly walk the walk that supports credibility when talking the sustainability talk.

A recent investigative news report on McDonald’s sustainability misfires reveals why the authentic baseline carbon footprint assessment and related mitigation policies are so important to avoiding the possibility of greenwashing risks and scrutiny.

Corporate enthusiasm for claiming sustainable bona fides at times can obscure the correct and proper evaluation of specific actions the company must undertake to manage its carbon impact, evaluate resource consumption alongside energy use, and track backwards through the supply chain.

You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are

The challenges begin at the front door of science-based, data driven carbon footprint analysis that often remains untouched and unfunded on the to-do list. It isn’t possible to verify the company’s current readiness state or to establish quantifiable benchmarks for improvement over time without this review. Establishing baseline sustainability performance measurement will inform every aspect of readiness and the optimal brand communication that follows it.

More often than not, we’ve found that brand sustainability assessment is limited to low hanging fruit solutions such as improved packaging or reduced energy use. Most of the significant sustainability challenges exist in the supply chain, where food ingredients often deliver an outsized climate wallop. How come?

Agriculture is the second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) in the environment and the largest user of land and water resources. Within the snapshot of agriculture’s impact on climate, raising livestock for food is by far and away the highest GHG contributor. It is led by ruminant animals including beef, lamb and dairy in the form of cheesemaking. The combination of the animals themselves combined with re-purposed land use, natural resource over-consumption and raising crops to feed them, all coalesce to deliver excessive levels of highly toxic methane gas and nitrous oxide.

Regenerative farming practices that work to sequester more carbon and the development of non-animal protein creation technologies such as plant or microbe-based meat and dairy solutions, can help diminish the overall impact. But only when you know what it is you’re trying to reduce over time.

Two major culprits in aspirational assessment

Emergent’s study revealed two other hotbed areas of over-zealous sustainability performance evaluation. First and foremost is brand communication. It is the easiest lever to pull, one that can quickly get ahead of credible sustainability readiness when the messaging isn’t grounded in the science-based analysis of carbon impact and related improvement targets. Brands routinely reward themselves for getting ‘out there’ with sustainability storytelling, that may inadvertently invite media and consumer blow back when it isn’t anchored to authentic mitigation performance.

Right behind story is establishing the baseline infrastructure for measuring sustainable business performance. Investments in sustainability improvements should be tracked against business outcomes. This is the only way to know if the sustainability readiness platform is functioning fully and correctly. It is important to note that sustainability is ‘aging out’ of traditional CSR, and rapidly evolving into ESG – hence a part of business performance. The C-Suite must be involved in sustainability programming to ensure the right level of true organizational commitment.

We know consumers care deeply about sustainable choices. They are also getting smarter about what separates empty claims vs. substantive behaviors and policies that are well-executed. We have a proven, verified link now between optimal sustainability readiness strategies and competitive marketplace leverage that results in market share and volume growth. Integrating business measurement into the game plan is vital to assessing how well the entire sustainability strategy is progressing.

Fly right to reap the benefits

Transformational change has already occurred. We are living in the midst of a culture shift that is demanding companies step up to make improvements in their sustainability policies and standards.

When grounded in science and driven by informed communications strategies that help brands gain credit for their efforts, brands and businesses will out-perform the competition while establishing leadership in an area that will impact consumer preference for the foreseeable future.

If you’re interested in assessing where your business is today on sustainability performance and where it could go tomorrow with the optimal readiness program, click HERE to take the free Brand Sustainability Readiness questionnaire. The scoring and analysis are provided at no cost.

We promise a revealing, interesting and informative conversation that could open a new chapter of growth and prosperity for your brands in the year ahead.

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.

Building the Human Brand

Building a More Human Brand

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

Time to banish the old marketing playbook

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

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

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

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

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

Not ‘data points’, they’re human beings

What are the five things your customers want from you?

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

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

Utility over cleverness

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

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

Someone is better than everyone

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

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

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

Inspirational beats transactional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archives

Categories