Posts in branded content

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.

Shoppable video content

What happens when inspiration meets ability to buy?

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

2022 will be the year of shoppable content strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walmart and Meredith marry commerce and content

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

Ted Baker entertains and entices with shoppable video

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

Goldbelly to become the “QVC of artisanal food”

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

Thrive Markets creates their first shoppable cookbook

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

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

Start with useful, valuable content and story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for radical differentiation

The Compelling Case for Radical Brand Differentiation

April 15th, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Differentiation, engagement, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The Compelling Case for Radical Brand Differentiation”

Distinctiveness – a recipe to win the consumer’s mind

The greatest challenge brands experience on their journey to stardom (or eventual decline) is an unrelenting force at work that drives sameness into category competition. Ask any brand minder and they will recite their product advantages, formulation improvements and what they deem believe are distinguishing features. Yet in reality these characteristics are often a mild gradation of difference. This all-too-common condition pushes purchase decisions into more marginal and subjective territory such as attraction to package graphics and photography.

If you want to win the battle for the mind, you need every advantage. That begins by recognizing the all but universal existence of traditional category conventions and behaviors. The trick is working overtime to separate the brand from the crowd in your category orbit. Like 10-year-olds at a soccer match, most competing category combatants chase the marketplace ball of go-to-market practices like a rabid pack around the field. They rarely separate fully to position themselves uniquely for a more strategic and ultimately game winning play.

Be different. No really, really, really different!

In every category brands must compete for share of brain, wallet, sometimes stomach, engagement, mattering and value to the user. Yet modern advancements in technology, innovation, ingredient sourcing and production have made it virtually impossible for any brand to sustainably own a secret sauce achievement over time. One that can radically separate it from the other contestants. Copying is now an achieve-able artform.

If anything, brand experiences become somewhat interchangeable and thus can (will) fall victim to lowest common denominator pricing maneuvers that create a pocketbook incentive for switching. On the other hand, brands with deeper relationships and emotional connection to users can overcome the frequent rust of commoditization and marginal distinction.

Here we make the case for radical differentiation!

Let’s work together to break the rules and category conventions of brand behavior by flying purposefully in the opposite direction. Your goals and objectives are better served by creating greater separation than deciding to “live with” the middle-of-road-ness that often exists side by side in how brands package and market themselves. It may feel safer to follow the pack, but in the end home run outcomes are unlikely when virtually every brand bat is going to be calibrated for a reasonably decent base hit with consumers.

  • In fact, different is more powerful than better. Better is always a shade or degree move (perceptual). Unique can win devotion past the purchase decision.

Where can brands strategically separate?

Let’s start with who you are serving. Time and time again we’ve found that redefining who the core consumer is can offer a healthy start on the journey to radical differentiation. “All things to all people” will never be a recipe for distinction.

In every food, beverage and lifestyle brand category there are unique consumer cohorts. We also know that in many instances a more involved and engaged category buyer is often a heavy user who will represent a disproportionate share of brand sales volume and profit.

Narrowing the definition of who you want to serve is your first move towards better brand health, looking for the pockets of greater fan participation and emotional investment.

  • We routinely conduct category segmentations not just to understand different cohorts shopping a set of brands but also to find the fanatics and warriors who are champions of a business based on their lifestyle and attitudinal quirks or preferences.
  • Persona development work is key to helping define these slices of marketplace enthusiasts – those more likely to resonate to what’s on offer.

How do you design for them? What do they want? What constitutes a surprise and delight? How can you enhance relevance and resonance with them? Yes this means picking a narrower audience profile for planning. However, we’ve repeatedly observed this sharpened focus will improve every aspect of strategic gamesmanship while creating efficiencies in media communication. It sets the brand up to really engage groups of enthusiasts rather than being simply noticed (or not) by everyone.

Re-packaging the story

Designing language, tone and story relevance to the right audience is critical to set the brand apart. Spending time navigating Oatly’s website is a fascinating tour of a business with a unique voice, wearing its beliefs and values like a form of branded organic fashion. It’s not for everyone and isn’t intended to be so. It is a separator from all others, a rebel brand archetype that steps away from dairy conventions to do everything differently.

The words and narrative are masterfully curated to reflect the brand’s higher purpose around sustainability and a belief that an authentic human voice is more engaging than clever marketing speak. If the audience focus has first been narrowed to a band of believers, then the story should be refined to reflect and mirror their interests, concerns and values.

Symbolism 

These days product purchases are expressions and visible flags of values people want to be associated with or known to others for supporting.

The Nike brand isn’t really in the running shoe or athletic wear business. It is in the celebration of human commitment to athletic improvement and competition business. The brand is drenched in symbols of belief, striving, personal improvement, effort and achievement. These values transcend the levers of commerce and elevate Nike from all other players.

Can you add symbols and signals to your web site and outbound content that aligns your brand with shifts in popular culture important to your brand’s relevance and resonance?  

Looking for white space (differentiation) and trends to lead (culture change)

White space discovery is harder than it sounds. Our brains are wired perceptually to see what’s there rather than what’s not there. So how do you discover white space innovation in crowded categories? You must become a zealot customer anthropologist, studying their needs, wants and desires looking for under-served or unrecognized need states.

Both Beyond and Impossible plant-based meat companies arrived on the scene at a time when consumers increasingly viewed plant-based products as better for them. A trend gaining momentum across the food store. Witness the rampant growth of plant-based milk brands that upset the legacy dairy industry.

Their radical differentiation was to walk the opposite direction of improving vegan burgers for vegans. They set out to make plant-based burgers for meat lovers. Audacious. Charismatic. An impressive move to assault the beefy meat case. Their claim was bold and unique. The product experience delivered and now it’s a juggernaut of business expansion. A real zig to the common zag of most plant-based food innovations.

Higher purpose

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to believe in brands that share their values, that provide a way to make a difference. When the brand voice goes beyond the product to embrace issues people care deeply about, the dynamics of the consumer brand relationship change. No longer just transactional, the brand is imbued with deeper meaning and the voice gains gravitas and potence.

This is how you create a community of activists, advocates, ambassadors and believers who can see themselves embedded in your mission. Remarkably this tends to lower the overall costs of marketing because the brand doesn’t need to beat people over the head with paid self-promotion. The community has its own engine, pushing word of mouth out horizontally.

Some of the more visible examples:

Patagonia and its out-sized commitment to sustainability

Ben & Jerry and its radical commitment to social activism

Panera Bread and its ongoing efforts to address hunger and transparency

Warby Parker and its mission to help provide sight to the seeing challenged

Timberland and its tree mandate to answer carbon footprint and climate change

Of note, higher purpose is a zig move for the very reason so many brands don’t recognize the value of it, or fail to execute authentically, fully. Higher purpose only works optimally when belief and dedication to the platform is religion inside the organization, flowing all the way through operations, marketplace behaviors and long-term strategic decisions.

What’s your higher purpose and the reason people should join your brand’s movement? Or do you still think a formulation tweak will lead to massive marketplace victory?

Designing to intentional difference

Radical differentiation is a strategic play. It is how you can win the battle for the consumer’s mind when (for the most part) product categories are noisy, fuzzy, blurry pools of sameness. Consider who you are serving and what a narrower focus could mean. Look at white space innovations and trends as an opportunity to step outside the category norms. Change your voice, behave differently at the shelf. Move out of the standardized look and feel in how your product is packaged.

Run in the opposite direction from the pack. You will stand out. People will notice. If it’s done right, it can mean a change in the future trajectory of your company.

Should this concept strike you as worthy of further exploration and you would like to get a fresh perspective on what it could mean for your business, let us know. We would love to discuss how this journey might benefit your brand.

Use this link to open 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.

Pet brand engagement and social media

Pet Age magazine published our column on social media best practices

February 4th, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Pet food, Pet food marketing 0 comments on “Pet Age magazine published our column on social media best practices”

How to optimize social media strategy for pet brand marketing

Our new monthly column for Pet Age magazine tackles how to build consumer trust and engagement with one of the most powerful, credible channels of brand communication. You can read it here.

Learn how to maximize social channel outreach for impact and connection for your business...

Or, enter this link in your browser: https://bit.ly/SocialChannelStrategy

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.

Storytelling can change history, alter the path for brand growth

The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome

January 22nd, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, branded content, change, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Insight, Public Relations, storytelling, Validation 0 comments on “The Incredible Power of Story to Change Course, History and Outcome”

When Real, Powerful Human Stories Must be Told

It’s in the story telling and the strategic nuances of where and how they’re told that great things happen. Over time I have come to see and appreciate these tools that work to greatest effect and benefit in altering the future trajectory of client businesses.

There’s one story that stands out above others. The strategic principles bound up in this example have proven effective time and time again. It recurs often enough to have earned first place in the strategic arsenal as a reliable go-to for business progress. It’s the stories well-told by real people about how their lives have been impacted by our clients’ products.

An unforgettable day, a powerful moment, a sea-change that saved lives

A while back I owned an agency called Wheatley Blair. We were retained by home safety products company First Alert to launch the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm, a warning device for a household hazard that is unseen, dangerous and invisible to any human. It was the leading cause of accidental poisoning fatalities in America, claiming more than 1,500 lives every year and countless thousands more who were sickened or injured.

In our efforts to build a platform for launch we felt it was important to create a constituency of ambassadors including families who had lived through poisoning events or lost loved ones. Alongside them we built an advocate team of poison physicians who understood the threat, air quality experts who could explain how the gas is released and builds up in a home, and the fire service community of emergency first responders. We initiated a collaboration with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency charged with evaluating and monitoring new safety solutions.

Our campaign to alert American families gained traction as major news media broadcast our story of the “Silent Killer.” Word spread rapidly about this household hazard produced by combustion appliances like furnaces, ovens, hot water heaters and fireplaces. People lined up outside at hardware and homecenter stores to buy the alarms.

What we didn’t expect at the beginning was a foe to quickly emerge

The American Gas Association stormed out of the wings taking aim at our client because they felt the issue disparaged their product. Frankly while I understood their concern, it made no sense to me because the threat isn’t the fuel, it’s malfunctioning combustion appliances, exhaust systems and chimneys. But never mind, the industry came out swinging suggesting we were creating unnecessary alarm.

A David vs Goliath story if there ever was one

The natural gas industry is gigantic. They had more money to throw at this issue than our client had in total sales company wide. We were David to a well-financed Goliath. Naturally when this challenge emerged, we made a beeline for the Gas Association head offices looking to enlist them as collaborators in the effort to save lives and protect families. We thought, “Who wouldn’t sign on for that kind of life safety effort?”

  • Walking into the lion’s den, we made an appearance in their executive conference room attempting to persuade them that this was a golden opportunity for the industry to join in a lifesaving education activity.  This would endear them to families while associating their “brand” and product with a public safety initiative.

Unfortunately, they saw the issue as a threat and instead kicked off an effort to try and derail the carbon monoxide education campaign. When you’re working on the side of the angels it is unlikely that even a well-financed effort to discredit and downplay will work.

It came to its pinnacle at an industrywide conference held in Washington DC. It was their effort to rally the regional gas company members around a call to resist the carbon monoxide alarm education efforts and counter with their own claim that this was much ado about nothing.

  • But the handlers inadvertently made a strategic error. To create a perception of due diligence, they invited the Consumer Product Safety Commission to join and be part of the speaker line up. By law if the CPSC is involved in a meeting, it becomes a public event which anyone is free to attend.

Initially we offered to provide speakers and expert content but were denied. We decided to meet the challenge head-on by attending the meeting uninvited. Our strategy: to bring 10 families who had experienced a carbon monoxide disaster of their own to come and tell their stories at the conference. During question-and-answer sessions in the meeting agenda, they would come to the microphone and share their story while challenging the industry to help save lives.

  • One by one families in the audience stood up and told their stories, some of them heart rending of how loved ones were lost. Poison physicians explained how the gas impacts the human body causing people to suffocate from the inside out. Air quality experts detailed how an appliance can malfunction to emit this highly toxic material.

In the hallway outside the ballroom, I observed. My heart was racing as the testimonials unfolded in hostile territory. You could hear a pin drop as the families shared their unscripted, real, personal experiences. Meantime, the chief conference organizer was furious at our team for this move to confront the industry, and threatened to throw us out of the building. I calmly explained that CPSC rules and law require that these families be given entry to what was now a public meeting. If they did throw us out, we would invite national TV news crews to the parking lot to interview the families about being denied access.

He quickly backed down.

The meeting went on.

Then, the sea change occurred.

I witnessed the tide turn before my eyes as gas company CEOs came to the lectern to say they were personally touched by and impressed with what they heard. By the end of the meeting the industry moved to begin educating people about the threat rather than resisting it. Many eventually became sellers of carbon monoxide alarms themselves.

Why did this work so powerfully?

Real people telling honest stories with passion and pathos impacts the heart as much as the head. It is immediately trustworthy in a communications environment often filled with dubious claims and assertions that may or may not hold up under scrutiny.

Negative claims had no power in the face of real personal story. It was overwhelming and in the moment the chasm was bridged, the path permanently altered, and the world changed.

You can do this, too.

I enjoy what I do. Marketing and communication is my life calling. The business has rewarded me with an outlet for my creative bent, a curiously accurate business sense and ability to see the big picture of how client organizations can move to take the next leap in their development and growth.

So it’s really an avocation as much as a vocation. That said, I learned a ton from the First Alert assignment – about the power of stories to alter the course of history and events. What’s more I’ve seen this outcome repeat over and over. When people share their personal stories of change, renewal, improvement and growth, big things can happen and business leaps abound.

  • The devil is in the details of how this is executed. Want people to join your brand as advocates and evangelists? Give them a voice, move those stories out and let their experiences verify what you want people to know and believe about your products and brand.

The outcomes can be life changing. In First Alert’s case, it created a successful new category that propelled the company to a higher level of significance and value with consumers and trade customers, plus $250 million in added business within 15 months of launch. The Walmart buyer called carbon monoxide alarms the Cabbage Patch doll of the hardware department. We called it a significant achievement in the goal to save lives. A win and win.

  • These moments in life and marketing signify the places where we make a difference. Don’t you want to be a part of this kind of game-changing influence?

Let us know if you would be interested in unearthing marketplace impact and influence relevant to your brand and category. Together we can find a path to sustainable growth and business development.

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.

Brand storytelling must be emotionally relevant

Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot

January 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Why so many brands miss the storytelling sweet spot”

Turning forgettable messaging into UNforgettable engagement…

The vast majority of brand communication fails to engage its intended audience. It’s like continuously pumping messaging fuel into a mental gas tank with a hole in the bottom. Why? Because it is inadvertently constructed to be quickly forgettable.

  • Numerous behavioral research studies confirm within an hour people forget more than half of the information they’ve read, seen or heard. That percentage rapidly accelerates as more time goes by. Pfft, gone.

The message creator hasn’t fully grasped the critical elements of compelling, memorable storytelling that respect with what we know about how people operate. Instead, they lean on fact-based, logical feature/benefit oriented pieces of communication that won’t intersect with the emotional drivers that secure engagement and trust.

Consider this: stories are 22 times more memorable than facts. But what constitutes great storytelling? The best of the best storytellers recognize they are interacting with humans and work to understand specifically what drives cognition and outcome. For one you have to move beyond the product “plot” to plant a beating heart in the brand story with consumer as hero.

You’re speaking to a human

The magic occurs when great communication engages the neurotransmitters that drive people towards and not away from what is being conveyed. The two most important physical elements of messaging brain chemistry are Dopamine and Oxytocin.

Dopamine is a ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that is produced when a person is expecting some kind of meaningful reward or pleasurable experience. Dopamine helps us strive, focus ourselves and find things interesting. It has a direct impact on learning, motivation, mood and attention. The key here is creating anticipation of a sought-after reward.

Oxytocin is a hormone that operates as a neurotransmitter. It is created when people hear and experience how much you appreciate and care about them. Unsolicited acts of kindness can be instrumental in building this response. Oxytocin is the precursor to enhancing empathy and trust. You already know how fundamentally important trust is to any kind of real brand-to-consumer relationship.

  • Do you still believe that fact-based arguments are the way to go? The information will begin to disappear from your customer’s head within an hour.

The most powerful example of this I’ve ever experienced was during our work for home safety products brand First Alert, and the introduction of the world’s first residential carbon monoxide alarm. It is a living illustration of the link between emotion, empathy and impact on behavior.

The carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning story is laced with facts about sources of this unseen gas in the home, how leaks occur, what happens in the human body when it is ingested, and what the impacts look like. Yet our message testing revealed that none of that held a candle to the power of a personal story about a Maine family who lost their eldest daughter in a CO poisoning incident.

The heart-wrenching narrative about what happened to this family made the case for protection from an invisible threat in a far more personally-compelling way than any fact or figure ever could. Relate-able emotion is a powerful and influential communications tool.

The path to better communication outcomes

What is your consumer looking for? People resonate to a desire for love, connection, acceptance, safety and happiness. The goal here is weaving together a story that encounters this insight in various ways.

Your cheese business is not selling cheese. You are using compelling visuals and copy to convey mouth-watering desire. You’re actually selling incredible taste experiences delivered in a shared social environment people crave. Your narrative wraps in beliefs and values that embed your brand with deeper meaning. This transcends the forgettable ‘buy my cheese’ message because you know people want to be a part of something greater than themselves.

  • Tone here is important. The more human you are in storytelling, the better. Vulnerability and honesty come in to play when you’re reaching for resonance and relevance. Give your audience experiences they can relate to, empathize with and recognize in their own lives.

Want to hear the voice of honest and human?

“Smart phones exist already and they’re stupid. But mine is smarter than your computer at home.” Steve Jobs, launch of the iPhone. Does Jobs employ facts, technology examples or recitation of features? No. He nails the proposition by creating a relate-able context of what was an astonishing revelation in its era. Beautiful.

Story structure

Here’s the question that must be answered in brand storytelling: how does your product change a person’s life? You are working to unearth the true “why” behind a consumer’s reason and desire to purchase.

Stories should address three fundamental elements:

  1. Set up – the problem your product solves. Think long and hard on a higher level about what this is.
  2. Conflict – create some tension around how you go about solving the problem. Is there a villain you can identify?
  3. Payoff – the happy outcome of what success is and what it feels like to prevail.
Remy and food passion
Passion, heart and soul create the basis for message engagement

The Pixar movie “Ratatouille” isn’t about a rat as chef

Yes, the central character Remy the rat can read cookbooks and has ongoing conversations with a famous French chef who is a figment of his imagination. The magic of this story is his love affair with food and flavor combinations. It is his passion for incredible taste experiences that drives him and the arc of the story.

He makes you want to cook, to pick up a knife and chop, to invent and create because of the romance he liberally dollops into his sauté pan. Pixar studios is famous for embedding heart and soul in its movies. What inevitably happens? You get invested, you care, you become engaged and feel empathetic for the characters involved.

  • This understanding of great storytelling is no less important and meaningful in business communications. Your brand deserves this kind of thinking and expression under what could become the unforgettable stories you tell.

If this approach resonates with you, Emergent employs a proprietary brand story telling process to tease out these great narratives and bring them to life. Use this link to find out more.

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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