Posts in Brand preference

Meat agriculture impacts on pet brand sustainability

Which Pet Brand Will Emerge as the Sustainability Leader?

December 9th, 2021 Posted by brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Carbon footprint, Climate Change, climate culture, consumer behavior, Differentiation, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Navigation, Sustainability 0 comments on “Which Pet Brand Will Emerge as the Sustainability Leader?”

The one that knows the secret to sustainability success…

The stakes in 2022 are high. The marketplace victory could be substantial. Who will win the sustainability derby and emerge as the pet category leader in environmental readiness?

Never before has so much been at stake so quickly as consumer culture change pushes sustainability to the front as a core driver of marketplace competitive advantage. This is a tougher hill to climb because it’s not about legacy advantages such as company size or distribution or ingredient quality. The outcome may bring a new cadre of progressive brands that gain incremental market share while the deniers and laggards face brand equity and value proposition declines.

  • It won’t be the biggest budget – this isn’t about balance sheet heft
  • It won’t be the loudest – this isn’t about media tonnage
  • It won’t be the fastest – this isn’t just a pole race

Why sustainability is a pet category game changer

The Pandemic has served as a catalyst to refocus consumer priorities on more meaningful issues and conditions that help protect the world around us as much as they benefit ourselves and our pets. This development is occurring amidst increasingly obvious global warming events and signs of escalating climate chaos. Consumer research shows a growing priority placed on brand sustainability performance. Underneath we find increased awareness that our food system, both human and pet, is a key contributor to greenhouse gas impacts.

  • According to a recent study conducted by Emergent’s insight research partner Brand Experience Group, 66% of consumers today are either passionate or deeply concerned about sustainability. The consumer is already there. It’s time for the pet industry to answer this call to action.

Rapidly changing consumer sentiment is pushing sustainability commitments and policies to the forefront. Along with it is a form of shopping friction bubbling up because there’s no simple way to sort one brand from another on sustainability bona fides. Consumers want to know what a more sustainable brand choice looks like. Who will step forward with the right, credible, trustworthy story? Which retailers will surface to offer guidance on more sustainable choices in their stores?

It’s time for a new pet brand mantra anyway

For more than a decade the premium pet food business has been focused on a short list of competitive arguments around grain free, percentages of meat in the formula and the relevance of an ancestral diet. It’s time to begin a new conversation with pet parents that isn’t another rehash of the tropes that have been popular over the long tail of the pet food premiumization revolution.

Sustainability is a welcome departure to a new brand narrative, one that is values driven. It may also be a catalyst for a wave of product innovation that changes the ingredient complexion of the pet food industry. The recent joint venture announcement between Hill’s and Bond pet foods, a pioneer in precision fermentation technology, may presage the dawn of meat proteins that don’t originate with an animal, bird or fish. The sustainable ingredient story there will be unprecedented.

Where’s the beef?

Well, it’s on top of the list of carbon generators from ag sources. At 30% of global greenhouse gas contributions, agriculture is the number two worldwide contributor to global warming. When you look underneath the hood, you find that the top two sources of GHG from agriculture are beef and lamb production. It stands to reason that pet food has a job to do in raising the bar for improvements over time – both in promoting regenerative farming practices and sourcing from environmentally-responsible suppliers with a more sustainable story to tell.

The secret to sustainability success

Fly right.

The essential sustainability truth in pet food is revealed in the supply chain.

  • Meat forward diets mean carbon impacts are embedded in the product formulation.
  • Pet food makes up between 25 and 30% of the entire environmental impact of domestic meat consumption.
  • Meat centric pet diets generate approximately 64 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to driving 13.6 million cars for a year, according to Gregory Okin, a UCLA Professor who published an environmental impact study on pet food in the PLOS ONE Journal.

The road to pet brand sustainability readiness begins with a scientific, data-driven analysis of carbon footprint. From that foundation comes the ability to establish science-based mitigation and improvement targets over time. It’s important to note that every brand in the business faces similar sustainability challenges. The advantage goes to those who will do the science-based analysis to understand where the business is today before creating the roadmap for where it will go tomorrow and beyond.

The science-based approach helps brands avoid the trap of greenwashing by bringing data informed benchmarks and commitments. This reality benchmark in the sustainability conversation provides the brand with a credible, trustworthy platform on which to build its narrative. Invoking sustainability claims without the science assessment, knowing the challenges exist in the supply chain, is risky territory. Media and consumers are getting smarter about what constitutes credible moves to improve sustainability readiness vs. less genuine apple-polish style messaging.

Who is going to be the first with carbon footprint labeling?

Granted this is a new conversation to start with pet parents. Just as consumers may not fully understand what the protein percentage numbers on a bag truly mean, they may also lack deep knowledge of carbon scores. Nonetheless, when a brand anchors its narrative in real researched targets, it gains immediate cachet for bringing new belief points to the stage.

The initial footprint statement is likely to be aligned with standards and commitments for change over time, so the brand users know what the company is planning for improvement. No one expects a brand to be perfect right out of the gate. No brand will be for that matter. However, the transparency and clarity delivered will measurably advance the brand’s position as “the more sustainable choice.”

Whoever grabs first-mover status here is likely to be a perceptual and voice leader in the conversation around pet food sustainability. We can imagine the remarkable anchor this will create for storytelling at Global and Superzoo, especially when you can establish a unique state of the art for sustainable practices in the industry.

Anatomy of a pet brand sustainability winner

The crown for sustainability leader will likely pass to the pet brand that steps in with the greatest integrity and authenticity.

  • Begins with science-based carbon assessment and data informed mitigation targets.
  • Grounded in insight research that reveals the areas of sustainable performance that matter the most to brand users.
  • Backed by infrastructure to properly measure the business impacts of sustainability investments.
  • Supported with a robust communications platform to tell the brand’s sustainability bona fides to key consumer and stakeholder audiences.

If you think sustainability matters in the year ahead to competitive advantage in the pet brand market, we would invite a conversation to discuss how we can help build your sustainable brand platform and story. Use this link to learn more in our Brand Sustainability Solution program guide.

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.

Sustainability drives revenue

Sustainability to Drive Brand Preference and Sales Growth

October 6th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Greenhouse Gas, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Sustainability 0 comments on “Sustainability to Drive Brand Preference and Sales Growth”

Moral imperative motivating action

A cultural transformation underway now in food, beverage and lifestyle categories is having an impact on the path to purchase. Are you ready for it? Consumers are moving away from buying decisions founded entirely on evaluations of “what’s good for me” to also embracing “what’s good for the world around me.”

  • In a recent study conducted by our insight research partner Brand Experience Group, 66% of US consumers are either passionate or concerned about sustainability commitments by brands and retailers. This insight is translating into marketplace behaviors as consumers look for more sustainable solutions at retail.

A form of moral imperative is rising to the surface in how consumers view their purchasing decisions. Increasingly, consumer buying is founded in symbolism and signaling to the outside world not only their own values, but also the sustainability readiness of the brands they prefer.

Conscientious Consumption has arrived. It is a criterion in the hierarchy of meaning consumers assign to brands. People are now voting their values and beliefs at the cash register. They want to align themselves with brands and retailers who are signaling environmental responsibility and standards of performance. Is your brand sustainability ready? Is this embedded in your go-to-market plan?

How brands address this shift on the path to purchase is creating significant questions about brand messaging strategy, as well as aligned on-pack and shelf communication to inform users of sustainability bona fides.

The coming shopping friction

How does the consumer actualize their moral motivation when shopping across multiple brand choices in food, beverage and lifestyle categories? How can they assess the sustainability readiness of Brand X vs. Brand Y? Consumer sentiment is once again tracking ahead of the current marketplace reality. Brands and retailers that step in to help guide shoppers on environmental standards will reap the benefits of added relevance multiplied by surprise and delight.

  • For food retailers much as the “international” aisles became a shopping destination point years ago, can there be a health, wellness and sustainability section that features brands with an environmentally-responsible story to tell?

If brands don’t step up to acknowledge this change and improve communication based on these insights, it becomes near impossible to translate sustainability investments into tangible balance sheet outcomes. For those who do, the rewards may be great!

  • The formula for sustainability success is science and metrics-based environmental and climate mitigation analysis of your operations and supply chain, served alongside clear established metrics for change and improvement. This performance is then multiplied exponentially by a strong, creative communications platform to tell that story to the right audience. Awareness of this narrative drives purchase.

Feeding the primacy of emotional outreach

Product feature and benefit selling has been the hallmark of CPG communications for decades. The emergence of these new societal and moral imperative considerations on the path to purchase recommends a more culture-forward brand messaging strategy. “What’s good for the world around us” is, by definition, an emotional construct.

In a recent Marketing Dive interview, Matt Kleinschmit, founder and CEO of insights research company Reach3 said, “Brand loyalty is really something that is, in fast-moving consumer goods, more of an aspiration than a reality. As a result, modern marketers in the CPG world have latched on to this idea of trying to establish emotional connections with consumers. If there’s an emotional connection, that will often trump functional benefits,” he reports. “Brands that can execute that in a smart way are winning.”

Smart in this case is recognizing the importance consumers are already placing on sustainability and environmental performance. From there brands can work through investments, policies and actions to demonstrate in credible ways how that readiness manifests in the products on offer. When higher purpose and mission intersect fully with product outreach strategies a form of engagement magic can occur. Now the motivation to buy takes on deeper meaning and added importance that transcends any existing parity (similarity) on price and formulation.

Is a trust mark needed?

Is it time to begin thinking about the development of a trust mark that employs credible independent third-party analysis to validate sustainability readiness? A mark could serve as a visual piece of retail shelf-friendly evidence that a brand is a better choice based on its verified sustainability bona fides.

Emergent is examining this idea in greater detail and will report back to our readers on potential solutions. The objective: create an anchor for trustworthy choice and credible reassurance that the fox isn’t guarding the hen house on the veracity of sustainability claims.

Stay tuned.

Closing the loop to digital marketing and activating purchase in the moment

Walmart recently announced a major partnership with Meredith, publishers of media brands like Better Homes & Gardens, Eating Well, Parents and Real Simple. The new AI driven integrated marketing platform they jointly create will feature “shoppable” content in the first-ever ‘Bookazine’ to feature embedded ecommerce links. The content will allow consumers to purchase directly from the delivered stories and recommended meal experiences.

  • Imagine how this could evolve in stories related to climate readiness, sustainability issues and developments around standards of performance that promise new metrics-based mitigation targets. Consumers could execute a purchase right then and there at the “point of thought and realization.” The high emotional index coupled to commerce-in-the-moment is a truly powerful idea.

Media partnerships connected to shoppable content can open an entirely new window of brand relevance on top of a value proposition built around deeper meaning. This is exciting! The created content becomes actionable, fully closing the loop from awareness to sale authored by the most worthy of buying motivations. Wow.

Matching sustainability readiness to business performance

If you understand the powerful paradigm of sustainability as a concern among your customer base, now is the time to optimize this development on the path to purchase with emotional messaging and digital shoppable content.

Use this link to ask questions and explore this concept further with our Brand Sustainability Solutions team.

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

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

Relevancy drives business growth

Relevancy is Key to Your Brand’s Traction

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

Strengthening your cultural connections is vital to sustainable growth

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

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

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

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

Here is our guide to relevance and connection

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

Is your brand engaging in the world around it?

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

Is your brand viewed as a positive influence?

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

Is your brand a contributor to users’ lives?

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

Designing for enhanced relevance

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

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

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

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

  1. Consumer lifestyle insight

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

2. The customer experience journey

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

3. Creative thinking around your future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niche community marketing

The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here

August 31st, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Category Design, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Customer Journey Map, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, Food Trend, Higher Purpose, Insight, Social proof, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here”

Internet enables strategic shift to networks of influence

Forever and a day, brand and retail marketing centered on identifying key user targets, parsing user cohorts and unearthing insights to define their respective habits, preferences, passions, interests and behaviors. The goal – to refine brand relevance; make media decisions based on their demographics and psychographics; and craft creative messaging to reach these individuals.

But the world has changed (again) and now the path to consumer engagement must be calculated in the context of how and where people participate in communities that help them filter, read, decide and buy.

More than at any other time in modern marketing, products are more susceptible to trends than individual preferences. What do we now know? People are social creatures. The digital world we all live in enables and caters to their collective passions whether that be health and wellness, cooking creativity, love of wine and spirits, fashionable-ness or nurturing a pet-oriented lifestyle.

Communities form and prosper around shared interests.

The wisdom of a curated community

Neuroscience now helps us understand that behaviors are impacted by trends and popularity in user communities. People see community recognition and acceptance as validation that a product or a TV show must be good because ‘everybody’ is using or watching it. Call it fear of missing out or confidence in community consensus.

  • Old way of thinking: to scale your business go wide, cast a broad net and employ mass media as much as possible.
  • New way of thinking: look for networks of influence and go narrow to micro-communities that cater to niche tastes and shared values.

The Internet has operated as an endless digital enabler of nichemanship. Yet many brands remain wed to strategies focused on individuals and amassing eyeballs more so than immersion into the smaller communities where people participate and ‘belong.’

Questions you should be asking

In which communities do your users belong and participate?

Who are the sources of influence and prominent voices in that network?

What trends and interests are actively supported in the community?

How can you best enable users to contribute to the community?

It’s important to take note of shared tastes and values in these settings and to employ that insight in your messaging and outreach strategies.

What are your customers’ embedded interests? What issues, activities, hobbies do they care about and invest their time? If users have a specific interest area that lights their fire, chances are they belong to a community that focuses on it. People participate in influence networks that inform and feed their passions.

Look for the ‘religion’

Some might agree love of whiskey is a religion. There are beliefs and values associated with distilling traditions, still design, ingredients, casks and aging. There’s unique nomenclature and perceptions of what constitutes a good, better or best product. There are lifestyle associations, groups, communities, events and narrowcast media. There are also expert voices and sources of influence on what matters and new developments in product innovation.

For a brand there is more to be gained by studying the networks of influence than blind devotion to detailed persona descriptions of individual whiskey heavy users. Trends can drive leaps in market share, so it’s important to operate as a disciple in the community, embrace the religion of shared beliefs and identify the influence networks within them.

This concept of category religion can be applied in any number of high-engagement businesses where a fan base of ambassadors and evangelists reside.

The role of experts in outreach

Building credibility and trust are paramount these days. Deployment of subject matter experts, be they credentialed or citizen, matters greatly in verifying trends and authenticating community beliefs. When the brand sees its role as enabler, coach and guide to its users rather than product seller, deploying expert engagement in social channels can feed participation, conversation and sharing.

The foundation: your brand Higher Purpose

It is easier to anchor marketing in communities of shared values and beliefs when the brand ‘soul’ is well developed around a purpose that transcends commerce and self-promotion. If you want people to join your community as believers, then you have to give them something in which to believe.

Sadly more often than not, the brand’s ability to position itself in influence networks and community is diluted by operating in the ’three miles wide and a half inch deep‘ mode of transactional behavior. Purpose imbues your brand with a more meaningful voice and greater resonance because the community sees you are wearing your values like a well-tailored suit. 

Hard work ahead

Identifying and understanding networks of influence requires more study and asking different questions during insight research.  Conversation within these communities based on trends and values will help build brand relevance and value among those who care the most. Those are your best customers who over time will deliver greater volume and profit than the less loyal, less engaged users who come and go on deal.

If you think fresh thinking and guidance on influence strategies would benefit your marketing plans, use this link to start an informal 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.

The barrier to climate investment is fear

What is the biggest barrier to sustainability investments?

August 12th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Carbon footprint, Climatarian, Climate Change, climate culture, Consumer insight, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Navigation, storytelling, Sustainability, Transformation, Transparency 0 comments on “What is the biggest barrier to sustainability investments?”

…It isn’t the supply chain or manufacturing

Imagine an out-of-control cruise ship bearing down on the sunny Island resort dock at 30-knots full speed with no captain at the wheel. 200,000 tons of steel coming in hard to shore, kicking up a gigantic spray of water behind it. There you are at the coffee shop in front of the pier, enjoying your latte while waiting for the ship to arrive. You watch in horror as this gigantic floating hotel with 4,000 souls aboard is barreling right for you, the bow getting taller and taller in the closing moments. You freeze – unable to move as the disastrous, tragic end draws near – paralyzed by _________.

The word is fear.

You didn’t see it earlier, but painted on the bow in bright green, it’s the USS Climate Chaos coming in hot …literally.

Sustainability at one time was more leisurely focused on clean energy use and efforts to improve, say, recycling and clean energy from the manufacturing plant to customer warehouses. The annual report would recite the efficiencies and efforts made to use less fossil fuels in the daily routine of manufacturing, shipping and commerce.

But wait; more recently we learn that greenhouse gas levels, despite the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic, have reached their highest concentration in 4 million years and shows no signs of slowing down. The planet is rapidly warming. Climate impacts start to get closer and closer to home through unrelenting wildfires, droughts, super-storms and wild weather shifts. You can feel it and see it now.

Then as if on cue, along comes a series of reports that reveal the incredibly significant relationship our food system has to climate impact, now the second leading contributor of global greenhouse gas production at 24%. Consumers who are already increasingly aware and sensitized to big societal issues like climate trouble, begin to realize there is a relationship between their food choices and climate outcomes.

The word sustainability acquires new gravitas and deeper meaning as it is redefined to signal climate threat from supply chain actors like livestock production and soil-damaging industrial agriculture practices.

  • Who knew it took 1,600 gallons of water, massive land resources and two years to produce one 16-ounce steak?
  • Why didn’t we know before that the world’s largest carbon sink, the Amazon rainforest, is disappearing at the rate of an acre per second due to repurposing the forested land for animal agriculture and crops to feed them?

Sustainability may now be the most popular term in modern marketing

Yet it is still vastly underserved as companies wrestle with its deeper meaning and implications. Will we get to solutions soon enough to prevent portions of the planet from becoming uninhabitable? Or will the streets of Toronto begin to resemble Beverly Hills with giant royal palm trees lining the Yorktown shopping district, while the southern hemisphere reels from millions of climate refugees running north for survival?

  • Sustainability is an operational imperative that starts at the field or ranch and works its way forward to the retail store. The challenge ahead begins with understanding what an organization’s carbon footprint looks like though objective, data-driven scientific analysis that runs all the way back through the supply chain and forward through manufacturing, distributing and recovery of packaging materials.

Within this analysis comes visibility to the conditions that impact climate threat contributions and identifying where improvements can be made, and carbon mitigation targets set.

The biggest threat to progress here is various forms of organizational fear

Given the speed at which climate threat is turning into a passion point for consumers on the path to a purchase decision, there is a need to get this right sooner rather than later. Yet some companies still struggle to navigate.

Why?

Fear of change

Change is hard. No one likes it except the most progressive leaders who see it as a path to reinvention and growth. Changing institutionalized thinking and processes is difficult. But change it must. We need a wildfire of movement towards credible sustainability solutions.

Fear of risk

The street looks for quarterly reports that repeat positive progress. Companies may worry that fundamental changes in infrastructure and operational standards will be a risk – that even with disciplined planning, to some degree, – they’ll still be steering in uncharted waters. Yes, but it’s a necessary risk worth taking.

Fear of truth

Every business resides in a glass house these days because anything that can be known, will be known. Are there some policies and behaviors that under scrutiny in the light of day could cause a little unease?

Transparency is demanded by users and stakeholders at a time when missteps can be discovered and reported globally in the digital age of communication. You already own that problem. The larger social responsibility demerit is knowing the problems exist yet doing nothing to improve them.

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine…

Thinking differently – turns out robust sustainability commitments and policy are actually a path to improved innovation, financial outcomes and business growth.

Our partners at Brand Experience Group (BXG) made the business case, quantifying the impact of holistic sustainability strategies on balance sheet progress. Overwhelming evidence points to business growth from progressive sustainability programs, properly communicated to all relevant stakeholders. The research also proves that absence of these programs leads to sub-optimal business performance. (if you want to see the report, request it here).

How can this be true?

Because the number of consumers who care about sustainability investments, programs and verified outcomes is NOT some small tertiary cohort. According to BXG:

  • 34% of consumers are deeply passionate about sustainability progress, and
  • another 33% are “concerned” about sustainability policies and behaviors.
  • That’s 67 percent of your consuming marketplace.

If consumers want it, you need to deliver, right?

In a sentence: sustainability is good for business.

It may require changes in how the company operates, sources and manufacturers, but these changes are necessary when the great ship Climate Chaos is coming in all gas and no brakes to ultimately reward the climate caretakers and punish the deniers who claim they didn’t see it coming.

Is this going to be expensive for our economy?

Not if the thesis set out by think tank RethinkX is correct. They forecast ambitious but realistic targets for change in the next 10 years, based on deployment of technologies we already have in place, such as precision fermentation in food making. They state:

“By leveraging the power of market forces, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions can be transformed from a costly expense into a lucrative investment at every scale from local to global. Regions, nations, communities, cities, businesses, and investors choosing to embrace and lead the disruptions rather than resist them will reap enormous economic and social rewards as well as environmental benefits.”

Decarbonizing the global economy will not be costly, it will instead save trillions of dollars…

“By leveraging the power of market forces, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions can be transformed from a costly expense into a lucrative investment at every scale from local to global. Regions, nations, communities, cities, businesses, and investors choosing to embrace and lead the disruptions rather than resist them will reap enormous economic and social rewards as well as environmental benefits.” – RethinkX Climate Change Report

Time to get on board and pilot the new Climate Threat ship to a better, brighter and hopefully cooler future.

If you want to get a clear understanding of how to get ahead of the unstoppable and pervasive need for sustainability readiness, read our Brand Sustainability Solution report. You can download it free here.

If you want to know exactly where your business is on climate readiness, take our five-minute online Sustainability Readiness questionnaire. It is complimentary along with the scoring and follow-up report on what the results mean. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by knowing exactly where your company sustainability challenges reside. Here’s the link to take the electronic questionnaire.

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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