Posts in brand strategy

Culinary inspiration should influence food retail strategies

Putting Food Inspiration at the Center of Your Value Proposition

January 12th, 2022 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Customer Experience, Emotional relevance, engagement, food experiences, food retail strategy, Marketing Strategy, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, shopper experience, Strategic Planning, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Putting Food Inspiration at the Center of Your Value Proposition”

Can a food retailer fall in love with food?

From one grocery store to another, aside from the convenient location it occupies, what elevates one over the other? Not much really. Differentiation is often in marginal territory….

  • Products assortments are similar.
  • Aisle configuration runs the same direction.
  • The perimeter features fresh items.
  • The packaged products anchor the center store shelves.
  • The checkout is a line.
  • Items on sale will exist in most departments.
  • The ice bag locker is near the entrance.

Some stores may feature fancier lighting or shinier floors but for the most part if you’ve been in one supermarket in Maine, the same experience will be had in Minnesota or Maryland. There are a few exceptions to format like Trader Joe’s that turns the frozen department into a singular art form. Dorothy Lane owns its Killer Brownies. Publix and Costco lead with great reputations. Wegmans delights with service-minded staff. H-E-B in Texas stands above with its highly curated Central Market banner and Midwest shoppers frequently laud HyVee. Sure, the Northeast’s Stew Leonard stores step ahead with grocery-as-theater.

Even at the high end such as Whole Foods or Plum Market, while the shelves feature more boutique brands and the prices to match the artisanal, locally sourced claims – everything remains strikingly familiar.

But what could happen if a grocery retailer were to fall in love with food?

What if food retail was a culinary adventure, an inspirational tour more than just an organized maze of boxes, cans and bags? Ultimately, the business end of food for shoppers would be a better dish, an adventurous menu, and an extraordinary eating experience. Yet a peek inside the prepared foods case of most supermarkets is a study in over-heated rotisserie chicken and meatloaf belly-pleasers. Maybe a Sushi bar here and there but not many are really blowing up the concept for a delight-to-the-senses food experience.

The Internet and food delivery apps already democratize access to restaurant quality cooking. Great chefy meals can be had in 30 to 40 minutes. How can a food retailer successfully disrupt a ‘been there and done that’ shopping paradigm to create memorable and engaging food and shopping experiences? Is it possible to transcend the point-and-click convenience of restaurants coming to the front door?

Well, get ‘em inside your front door!  Food is sensory. It is emotional. It could be a feast for the eyes, the heart and soul. An inspiration for the home cook. A place of learning and creativity. A tour of global flavors and cuisines. A culinary Disneyland with one theme leading to another.

  • Our hypothesis is this: you can’t really deliver food inspiration if you don’t have a passion for culinary experience powered by a visceral appreciation for the magic of food and great cooking (plus adjacent standards that demand improved output from the commissary).

What meal solutions would be located near other menu options if you loved culinary adventure and were determined to help customers elevate their food experiences? People mostly shop for dinner these days. How can you help them with that objective (and we’re thinking way past the roasted birds)? Saucing is a simple maneuver that can elevate just about anything on a dinner plate – who is making that small wonder happen?

Vegetables are a constant drumbeat of nutritional guilting but remain red-headed stepchildren in the pantry because of the absence of inspired preparations (think Asian options) and the transformative flavor punch of roasting over steaming.

  • Whatever the culinary muse might be and how stores could be organized differently, it just won’t happen if the executive team doesn’t start with culinary enthusiasm holding court ahead of singular devotion to SKU velocity considerations.

Let the big boxes have their 30 linear feet of cheap tissue and towels. You are too busy whipping up magic in flavor-forward finished dishes or partially prepared global menus. You’ve already dialed in the wine pairing or created an entire plant-based feast. Organizing shopping by menus or need states or cuisine varieties and thinking like a home cook to layer flavors from one department to another.  You know about the current menu burnout epidemic and thus refresh the ‘what’s for dinner’ quandary with creative easy-to-follow meal ideas and curated shopping lists.

Many will interject this just isn’t possible based on the razor thin margins of food retailing that demand fealty to carts speedily navigating the aisles with belief everyone needs to get in and out as fast as possible. Maybe the desire to get in one door and out the other quickly is fed by no real delight to be found in the whole store experience. Is the only emotional win we’re willing to serve up a grass-fed New York strip at $12.99 a pound?

Evidence of Innovation

Grocery icon Bob Mariano and his talented gustatorial co-conspirators Don Fitzgerald and Jay Owen could rightly be accused of putting culinary considerations at the center of a fascinating play on re-imagined grocery. Their Dom’s Kitchen and Market store now operating in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood is a totem to unabashed borrowing of aligned culinary brand equity by featuring Bonci pizzas, Tortello fresh pasts and Meats by Linz. You go there, you want to stay there. It’s a feast for the senses. Dom’s is really a series of innovative kitchens and menus surrounded by well thought out unique packaged food selections. What fun!

Kevin Coupe, in his epiphanous Morning Newsbeat e-newsletter reports even the largest of grocery chains, Kroger, is experimenting in their Ralph’s banner near the UCLA campus in Los Angeles with a Kitchen United collaboration. Ten restaurant brands and menus can be accessed for in-store pick-up or delivery through a ghost kitchen integration that hits a college crowd pleasing tour-de-force of prepared food options. Think of fried chicken sandwiches and Ramen bowls, sushi, pizzas garnished with a heavy nod to all of the Impossible and Beyond products that replicate a meat lovers’ greatest hits. Relevant to the trading area for sure.

All of this challenges the definition of what a food retail store could be if the owners were in love with the outcome of what they sell. When passion for food and eating experiences influences the merchandising and business decisions, there just might be an opportunity to achieve transcendence. That is a shopping experience so differentiated and meaningful the home cook runs around the store exclaiming, “you get me, you really get me!”

Food adventure springs from the heart. A store can only live and breathe the devotion to food experiences when the executive team starts there themselves. The opportunity is this: create a food shopping experience so remarkable it generates talk value, social discourse, endorsement and excitement from those so awe struck that a food store might romance the actual food.

  • What’s the key to competitive advantage in a world that operates in opposition to retail visits? A shopping experience you want to keep coming back to, and not just because there’s a two for one deal on a box of Cheerios.

If creative inspiration and communication of same is what you seek, use this link to open an informal conversation with a team of marketers who love food as much as you do.

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.

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.

Shoppable video content

What happens when inspiration meets ability to buy?

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

2022 will be the year of shoppable content strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walmart and Meredith marry commerce and content

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

Ted Baker entertains and entices with shoppable video

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

Goldbelly to become the “QVC of artisanal food”

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

Thrive Markets creates their first shoppable cookbook

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

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

Start with useful, valuable content and story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Higher Purpose brand building

How to Build a Higher Purpose Brand

October 12th, 2021 Posted by Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “How to Build a Higher Purpose Brand”

“Want to have a more meaningful relationship with your users, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning.”

Ten years ago a culture shift reached the tipping point and changed the dynamics of brand building forever. Consumers acquired full control over brand engagement and became serial avoiders of overt self-reverential and promotional marketing outreach. Selling in its traditional form was no longer an effective path to interaction with users. Analytical messaging about brand recipes, ingredients and technology would not be enough to draw consumers close. The path to purchase irrevocably changed.

In the wake of this transformation in how brand-to-consumer relationships are created, emerged a new and more enlightened platform to drive brand marketing effectiveness called Higher Purpose Brand Building.

No longer is the marketing best practices game plan to be grounded solely in promoting product features and benefits. Still as 2022 draws near and strategic planning is in high gear, we still see vestiges of old-school thinking that follows the “if you build it, they will come” marketing methodology. Higher Purpose brand strategy remains underleveraged in CPG and retail categories.

Here we will provide insight into purpose-built brand practices and how best to define this anchoring platform that will positively impact every aspect of how your organization does business and how you communicate in the marketplace.

What happened, why purpose matters

It is the intersection between need and passion where people will find affection and the basis for a relationship with your brand. It is expressed this way because the world has changed and relating to a brand is now fundamentally the same thing as relating to a person.

The digital environment we are doing business in abruptly ended effectiveness of interruption-style marketing. At the same time, consumers evolved as purchasing motivation moved closer to a symbolic act and signaling of what people want the world around them to know they care about, their values and beliefs.

As such sustainable brand relationships are now built on admiration and trust – and that insight, properly executed, can deliver significant financial premiums.

  • Purpose-built brands represent goodwill that can be isolated as a component of business value.
  • They can deliver higher margins, traffic.
  • They also work to reduce the cost of promotion, improving ROI and bottom-line performance.

How? Because real purpose creates the opportunity for transcendence – the state of being admired – where consumers “join” your brand as members, not merely customers.

In order to build a more sustainable brand, you have a responsibility to push added meaning, trust and belief to the forefront of the consumer relationship. Said another way, you have to stand for something important in your users’ lives. A higher purpose defines your business’ true north and reason you exist. It should be a deeper and more lifestyle relevant concept that reaches beyond making or retailing high quality products.

Goes without saying maximizing business growth and profit is not a purpose. A real, human-relevant, and unselfish purpose is a purpose – and in the long run devotion to it will indeed maximize financial outcomes.

How to create a purpose-informed brand

This is an effort to codify your brand’s inner self. It’s vital to invest in this process because the marketing game has shifted completely from command and control (persuasion around overt feature/benefit selling) to the Relationship Building Era.

The goal of higher purpose planning is to anchor your brand in a new and deeper understanding of its mission – and in doing so provide a cohesive guide for all go-to-market tools and strategies.

Mapping brands on the relative strength or absence of Purpose bona fides can help bring added context to evaluating what best practices should look like in the competitive set. Here are four primary conditions that inform where brands might exist on strength of their Purpose plan.

Limited – province of brands that struggle with flat to declining sales, and who command little respect or trust from the consumer.

Reluctant – brands that have limited respect and generate little emotion, but whose pricing strategy or competitive advantage trumps consumer reticence.

Emotional equity – brands that maintain respect in spite of concept limitations, transactional marketing behaviors, higher prices or other competitive disadvantages.

Sustainable – more enlightened businesses that understand brand relationships work on the basis of true, authentic reciprocity and humanity – and are not superficial, opportunistic or purely transactional.

The depth of your brand mission and purpose can range from obvious and somewhat superficial to something altogether deeper and more engaging. To help you strive for the latter consider this basic premise:

  • If your brand were to disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow, would anybody but financially-interested parties truly care? Said more succinctly: is brand advocacy now a more important and relevant goal than loyalty? YES it is.

The further along the ‘help over hype’ continuum the concepts gets, the more transformational. If we’re looking at how best to leverage core purpose, then it will of necessity become the heart of everything your company does, informing marketing, hiring, sourcing, operations and communications.

The primary components of higher purpose thinking include:

Why (does your company and brand exist):

  • We exist to help people ___________________________________________________.

How (you deliver on our mission):

  • We deliver tools, guidance, insight and education to ____________________________.

What (business are you really in):

  • Our company and brand provides ____________________________________________.

Your Brand Stand

Out of the analysis and evaluation of why your business exists and what you stand for comes a statement we refer to as the Brand Stand. It is an anchoring expression of your higher purpose that informs company decisions and behavior. It is remarkable what happens internally when this work is done to create and codify values and beliefs. Employees and other stakeholders rally to the mission.

The principles and purpose become an anchoring lever for the organization and immediately changes the dynamics of marketplace communication to create more powerful and impactful social, earned, paid and content strategies. Your brand voice acquires more impact and emotional gravitas. You are giving users something to believe in, a deeper meaning and reason to be engaged with you.

As stated earlier the outcome of this is greater efficiency and effectiveness for your investments in brand marketing because it is not dependent on tonnage of media spend.

You are no longer competing on technical specsmanship which is more difficult to sustain and defend, instead your brand’s value proposition rises above legacy category tropes.

If you are interested in learning more about Higher Purpose Brand Building you can access our guide here: https://bit.ly/HigherPurposeStrategies

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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