Posts in CMO

Technology has leveled the competitive advantage playing field

The million-dollar barrier to great marketing has vanished!

March 8th, 2022 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, branded content, CMO, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The million-dollar barrier to great marketing has vanished!”

A massive leveling has commoditized advantages

Once there was a time when world-class marketing, by definition, was expensive. Bigger brands enjoyed advantages by way of larger marketing and media budgets that smaller players just couldn’t muster. A price of entry existed for superior production values and more cinematic forms of storytelling.

Those barriers have disappeared. What do you do when anyone, anywhere can compete with you on the quality of communication? What happens when the budgetary obstacles to outreach evaporate and anyone from anywhere can distribute high quality, engaging content? What unfolds when the importance of reaching mass audiences served by mass (expensive) media vanish because markets have bifurcated into smaller tribes of consumers who elect and select the brands they care about “joining?”

Read on to understand the shift in competitive advantage and where to go when a bigger budget doesn’t necessarily author any marketplace leverage.

Seth Godin marked the change beautifully in a recent post:

“To make an album of music good enough to make it to the Top 40, it used to cost a million dollars. Now you can do it in your bedroom.

To make a commercial for network TV, a minute of footage cost about a million dollars…

And that same million was what it would cost to create an email engine for permission-based marketing in 1996.

And you needed a million dollars to build a website that could hold up under a lot of traffic, or to build a social media presence that would reach a million people.

All of these things are now incredibly cheap.”

Remarkably, many brands and businesses still operate as if these big wallet advantages exist – assuming the consumer marketplace will absorb their content before, above, beyond and more often than anyone else’s (as if repetition helps in an avoidance-enabled market). Just. Not. True.

A seed funded CPG food start-up or small footprint retailer is capable of producing a more impactful, useful and engaging web site than a large cap CPG brand or 1,000-door retail banner. Of note, capable is just that – there’s no inherent win from being small and new either. Same with video content. Same with social channel engagement. The entire competitive advantage paradigm has shifted from the few Goliaths to the many Davids.

What happens when technology and culture conflates the company size and budget advantages?

The big strategic question that must be factored into planning: what are the new rules of strategic advantage when everyone can compete with anyone?

  • The stakes on uniqueness and differentiation are amped and marginal distinctions constitute nearly zero brand leverage.
  • The requirement for deeper meaning, mission, higher purpose and values – your “why” – form the foundation of any strategic advantage. Based on our surveys, this foundation is more than likely under-served.
  • Putting the consumer at the center of brand narrative and communication strategy is now table-stakes to any hope of engagement.
  • The humanization of your brand proposition and marketplace behaviors is a prerequisite to achieving relevance and resonance.
  • Your digital footprint must revolve around “romance” of the consumer’s lifestyle aspirations, needs and wants before any relationship can be successfully secured.
  • Larger brands don’t own any advantages here. Smaller brands don’t get a hall pass for being “nimble” (no one owns speed) or conceptually more authentic because output looks raw and amateur-ish.

The requirement for trust is universal and bigger brands don’t inherit that quality

“We’ve been here for 40 years” does not mandate trust. Reciting reasons intended to convince people you’re trustworthy doesn’t work because trust is not achieved through data or facts.

Bigger may reduce the perceptions of any risk in purchase as a business moves to the late stages on the adoption curve. That said it can also be a slippery slope to irrelevance, too.

Importantly, any “risk” attached to what is new and innovative can be managed with the right trust-building strategies and performances.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen close-up exciting new product concepts and nuances of evolutionary innovation that could potentially disrupt existing food and beverage categories. Yet the truth of the matter – there are also emerging brand communication efforts that are neither emotionally resonant nor fully dialed into consumer relevance.

  • We have ample proof that while a level playing field exists, guidance and sound strategy are needed no matter the size of the business from $1 million in trailing revenue to $1 billion.

The large brand paradox

Larger brands have greater challenges due to hide-bound traditions and inertia that moves against change.

“We’re too big to fail”

“We’ve always done it this way”

“Our growth is aligned with the category performance”

“We can’t (won’t) change the foundational aspects of what authored our original success”

“Wall Street won’t like it if we do anything radically different”

“We have significant costs sunk in our supply chain infrastructure”

“We already have high levels of brand recognition and awareness”

“What if we (read: I) fail”

Trust must be won daily. Brand equity dilution, decline and commoditization challenges are like laws of gravity and cannot be side-stepped. Ceding category territory to smaller creations may not feel like a contest initially because many leaders believe you can “buy” your way in. Yet we recognize that post-acquisition there will be risks of diluting the golden goose’s brand magic.

The new rules of engagement

Anyone, anywhere can outflank and beat well-funded competition on message relevance and quality communication. That means emotionally on-point, consumer-centric communication is fundamental no matter who you are, big or small.

  • Higher purpose, mission and values are the foundational elements of trust creation and any player in a category is either served or hampered by this requirement.
  • You have to get out of your own way.
  • Size is not insulation and creates other significant challenges that operate in favor of reinvention and renewal – when change is often resisted.
  • Disruption and differentiation are required when sameness is rampant everywhere and traditional category behaviors can dumb-down any perceived uniqueness.
  • There are far too many bigger brands that lack humanity in how their story is packaged and presented.

The beauty of a level playing field

For larger brands, this means potential repositioning and savings on the marketing budget line because throwing “money at it” doesn’t really get you there. This forces the importance of innovation, relevance, meaning and values that are the hallmarks of competitive advantage in the relationship economy era.

For smaller brands, you are not at an automatic disadvantage based on size. You can compete. Effectively. However, the requirement for world-class storytelling and engagement strategies remains as the price of entry. Are you prepared for it?

In the famous Pixar movie about a culinary genius rat named Ratatouille, we learn the story arc’s basic premise, “anyone can cook” – provided the right inspiration, effort, energy, focus and desire to learn exist. So, too, in the era of relationship-based marketing. We can return to focusing on the consumer and our storytelling chops, knowing that we can make a difference, and we can win in the marketplace for all the right reasons!

If this story stimulates some thinking that you would like to share with like-minded brand builders who can add value to your internal strategic conversations, use this link to start an informal dialogue.

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

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

Trust drives consumer engagement

40,000 Respondents Confirm Values Matter More Than Product

January 20th, 2022 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, CMO, Consumer insight, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Social media, Social proof, storytelling, Transformation, Validation 0 comments on “40,000 Respondents Confirm Values Matter More Than Product”

Trust in advertising report spotlights the true path to consumer engagement…

Is it possible what your brand stands for will be more important than the product you make?

Yes. Read on.

Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising Report confirms a cultural sea change has taken place. The comprehensive survey advances new guidance that brands and retailers should reconsider their traditional single-minded devotion to product-centric communications strategies. The report signals emergence of a different roadmap to credibly and effectively secure consumer attention. A more enlightened path that is paved with higher purpose, mission and values ahead of glossy product features and benefits.

The rise of interest in more human-centric values reflects consumers’ need for trust in a marketing environment they believe lacks credibility and validation.

Don’t underestimate the importance of cultivating trust to brand communication effectiveness

For five years, Emergent has tracked the steady decline in brand and corporate trust alongside the parallel rise in why businesses must put the consumer and their requirement for trusted relationships at the center of strategic planning. Is this a feature in your marketing plan?

  • A recent sustainability trends report published by Mintel concluded one of the greatest barriers businesses face in getting credit for sustainability readiness is the consumer’s dramatic shortage of trust in their claims of performance. People find it harder to believe assertions made by companies on their commitment to sustainability standards and mitigation policies. (Hence the need for credible validation).

Nielsen’s study verified that consumers are placing greater importance on values, beliefs, inspiration, deeper meaning, humor and family. According to Cathy Heeley, Nielsen Media Analytics Lead, “People are much more interested in how a brand is going to help the world, not just what benefits a product has to offer. Consumers are looking at what brand values actually mean, what they stand for and their practical application.” Actions always speak louder and more believably than words alone.

Leaders across the globe should be asking: how do we propel and harness the power of our brand as a force for purpose that creates deeper meaning and societal benefit?

  • Brands should declare a clear point of view and create inclusive spaces of belonging.
  • They should also provide an opportunity for people to make a difference, while securing the greatest opportunity to generate impactful meaning in the world.
  • This commitment acts to galvanize both users and employees.
  • Now more than ever, leaders and decision-makers should cultivate a workforce while serving consumers in a way that requires the brand to stand for more than just profit.

The oldest millennials are entering their 40s, while Gen Z is carving its own unique space in the working population. The traditional hierarchical structures – two-week vacation policies and in-office incentives that are linked to growth – are no longer motivating enough to join an organization. The new generation of workers values higher purpose before profit.

Why are brand mission and values rising in importance to people?

Cultural change sits at the foundation of how these changes manifest and how consumers think – an important consideration when deciding how best to frame marketing strategy and communications effectiveness.

We are witnessing a cultural evolution. It first started in the early aughts following 9/11 when the disruptive shock to the nation caused people to re-evaluate their priorities and focus on relationships, family and values over other lifestyle and career considerations. Simultaneously control in the brand-to-consumer relationship was shifting entirely away from companies.

The Internet served as a fantastic enabler of consumer awareness and learning that also exposed the weaknesses of conspicuous consumption.

Dawn of the relationship economy

Underneath these cultural moves came a transformational change in the brand to consumer relationship, now taking on the characteristics of what we treasure in our human relationships – trust, meaning, reciprocity, values, investment, care and consideration for others.

Simply said, people want to be part of something greater than themselves. The search for deeper meaning was fully underway and with it came the initial priority placed on health and wellness and how choices will impact their quality of life.

Brands today must act as guide, coach, trusted advisor and enabler to consumers on their life journey. Yet more often than not, we find marketing strategies still anchored in self-promotion of product feature to benefit, embedding the brand communication with a systemic disconnect due to the weakness in consumer relevance.

The next evolution coming in 2022 – societal change and sustainability

Meanwhile trust in government as a catalyst for societal change has also diminished. Consumers now believe that companies are in a unique and better position – and have an inherent responsibility – to enact positive societal improvement.

Chief among these concerns is the hyper-focus on sustainability that has morphed into more specific questions about how companies source materials, ingredients and how they operate in a way that mitigates carbon footprint rather than contributing to the emerging chaos of climate change.

What should you do?

  1. First and foremost, refine and optimize your brand’s higher purpose platform. Profit is not a purpose. A human relevant and meaningful purpose is a purpose. This isn’t a call for philanthropy. Instead, it is about anchoring the business in a mission reflected through how the entire organization operates that is centered on the consumer and the changing world around us.
  2. Insight research will be required to better understand the specific details of what your best users care about, what areas of sustainable performance matter most, what needs they prioritize on their life journey and what barriers stand in the way of their success and achievement.
  3. Operationalize your policies, sourcing, behaviors, standards and commitments to achieve alignment with your stated mission and your commitments to sustainability readiness.
  4. Reconsider the entire brand message map to optimize the focus on your consumers’ needs, their desires, how you can help and support them, ahead of a linear trip into feature/benefit selling. The product message can be woven into the narrative. But it should be crafted within the coaching and guidance paradigm rather than straight self-promotion.
  5. Bring social channel strategies into clear alignment with this strategic approach. Social is exactly that – an area for users to share experiences, ideas, concerns and success stories. Too often we find social treated as a monologue of outbound product selling rather than a community founded on conversation. Your social content platform should be built around engagement not just selling. This is harder to do than it appears.
  6. Looking ahead, recognize the significance and importance of cultural change and the related dynamics of consumer attitude shifts that will be reflected in behavior changes. Things are evolving at a faster pace now and staying on top of this is vital. There is no such thing as resting on your laurels.

Evolution. Change. Transformation. Speed and Humanity should all be held close.

What do you think 2022 will bring in changes and shifts to strategy? Use this link to share your views. We will publish the observations and comments in an upcoming post on 2022 marketing best practices, as envisioned by you, our valued readers.

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.

Marketing is Not a Department

Marketing is Not a Department

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

Company beliefs and behaviors impact business strategy

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

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

Still a department?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Higher Purpose is not a marketing program

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

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

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

Getting and keeping the customer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niche community marketing

The Niche-ification of Brand and Retail Marketing is Here

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

Internet enables strategic shift to networks of influence

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

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

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

Communities form and prosper around shared interests.

The wisdom of a curated community

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

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

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

Questions you should be asking

In which communities do your users belong and participate?

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

What trends and interests are actively supported in the community?

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

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

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

Look for the ‘religion’

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

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

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

The role of experts in outreach

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

The foundation: your brand Higher Purpose

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

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

Hard work ahead

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

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

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

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

The power of emotional brand storytelling

(You Can) Unleash the Power of More Meaningful Marketing

July 19th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, CMO, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Customer Journey Map, editorial relevance, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Social media, Social proof, storytelling, Transformation 0 comments on “(You Can) Unleash the Power of More Meaningful Marketing”

Crafting stories that inspire action, change, movement

“Tell the truth but make the truth fascinating. You know you can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.” — David Ogilvy

Want to benefit from the persuasive impact of more meaningful marketing, then imbue your outreach with deeper meaning. At Emergent’s home page, your first encounter is a statement that reads: Crafting emotional, meaningful, powerful brand stories…

This phrase captures a core essence of what we do. Yes, we focus our communications work in the tactical areas of earned (publicity), owned (content) and social media. However, the real power and exceptionalism we bring to the table is in building stories well-told, where a brand’s customer is always the hero and thus finds themselves in it and benefits from the guidance and useful help a client’s brand provides.

Here we chart the path to better, more effective brand storytelling.

In the end great stories are respectful of the language used to tell them.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Mark Twain

Anyone who reads the Emerging Trends Report knows we publish early and often here on a wide range of topics from sustainability to brand strategy and media best practices. What these stories really ladder up to, beyond their inherent message, is an audition of our storytelling chops. Said another way, through our articles we’re demonstrating the importance of words and their meaning.

For the most part our published works are about guidance and coaching, thought leadership on topics of value to CEOs and CMOs and heads of Communications and PR. This in fact is a leading-edge strategy for more effective marketing. When you lean in to help, inform and inspire your audience to improve, you are casting the brand in its proper role of offering help over hype.

This is different than self-promotion that speaks endlessly to brand features, technology and formulation facts. While these elements of brand benefit remain integral to the storyline, they shouldn’t lead it for the very reason to do so embeds the communication with an intractable disconnect.

Every single day your customer wakes up believing they are the hero of their own life’s journey. When the brand is preoccupied with itself, it competes with the consumer for the hero role, and so the outreach is ignored while the consumer moves on to find a brand that can help and support them in fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.

The power of relevance, words and context

Very early in my agency career I discovered that language and inspirational storytelling can have an immediate and profound effect, even in unlikely settings. I wrote a pitch to a business editor about a regional packaged foods client that found itself sandwiched between giant national brands with endless resources and store brands nipping underneath with lower priced versions of their products. I cast this as a power struggle for hearts and minds that could only be won with unique, strategically-elegant moves to separate and differentiate their brand from the adjacent competition. I invoked emotion by making it appear to be a very human conflict, a mini movie of sorts where the intrepid, nimble regional brand ultimately prevails.

The editor loved it. The outcome was a series of interviews that produced a front-page story with a gigantic illustration of a David-like figure toppling a gigantic national brand Goliath. The story wound up in retail account presentations as a key piece of evidence about why the brand deserved stronger placement, more facings and retailer support.

The pitch was unorthodox and unconventional to be sure, but then that’s where the magic came from. The right words can have profound impact on outcomes. All business, ultimately, is storytelling. Stories that are imbued with deeper meaning are far more likely to change hearts and minds than the clinical expressions of facts and figures.

Brands are famously in love with their technologies and mousetrap, believing that once the world is made aware of their formulation prowess, people will beat a path to their door in droves. But here is where we separate perception from reality. People are not analytical decision-making machines. They are in indeed feeling creatures who think and not the other way around. It is always going to be heart-over-head.

  • If you know that the humanization of your brand storytelling has got to be job one. It may sound counterintuitive, but when you ruthlessly let go of reflexive tendencies to self-promote and focus instead on how you can improve the lives and wellbeing of your key users, suddenly an entirely new world of powerful brand storytelling unfolds.

Tell a story and put your audience at the center. Give them a role to play. Solve their anxiety and help them believe in what you’re selling. It’s the nervous kid at basketball tryouts who gets injected with a splash of confidence the second his feet slip into a pair of Nike’s. This is the sheer power — and magic of a well-written advertisement.  Jonah Malin

In the brilliant, animated movie Ratatouille, Remy the culinary genius chef rat tries to inspire his more ordinary rat-ish sibling to embrace the love of flavor experiences by combining a bite of cheese (flavor bomb) with piece of fruit (flavor enhancer). Alas his less appreciative rodent brother couldn’t make the gustatory leap out of the garbage can. The love of flavor and taste experience lesson though is ultimately about the result of food enjoyment. Cheese romance isn’t in the cheese-making, it’s in the taste experience and social bond of sharing these moments with people we care about. Remy has it right!

Setting up a successful story

Two important moves can help ensure the path to better storytelling prevails.

First is hyper focus on building personas of the various marketplace consumer cohorts you wish to reach. Go deep on their behaviors, interests, concerns and passions. If our client permits insight research ahead of the persona work, all the better as we get underneath the pieces and parts of how users think and operate.

This work serves as inspiration on the story topics and narrative paths we pursue. If a story isn’t relevant to the lifestyle of its intended recipient, it will not be resonant either. How can you truly cast them as hero of the story if you don’t know them? When consumers see themselves in the story like holding up a mirror, you’ll have their attention – which is the whole point. The biggest hill to climb in modern marketing is securing the time and attention of those you want to engage.

If the story offers no intrinsic value or relevance to the audience, it’s unlikely to be seen or heard.

From personas we move to message mapping based on that study. It’s here where the client’s product bona fides are woven together with the emotionally-inspiring stories that bring the ‘deeper meaning’ requirement to life.

The message map also serves as a terrific interactive tool for internal discussion on how brand stories will be created and what will be conveyed.

There are two specific goals in better brand storytelling practices

  • Remove risk. Nearly 100% of the time consumers operate with one singular goal in mind: to avoid making a bad decision. If for any reason they think a product experience will be unsatisfactory, they will avoid it. Removing risk through verification and validation from respected, credible sources that affirms outcomes will be key to success.
  • Build trust. Here, the character of the storytelling and the voices deployed become essential to gaining attention and trial. Quite often we bring in third-party subject matter experts to help inject trust by validating the fundamentals of what we want consumers to believe. Social media plays a key role here as a tool for proof: people believe the stories told by their peers before they’ll believe what a company claims.

Language matters. Trust building words like endorsed, proven, tested, quality and results can be invoked to help cement confidence. That said, the most powerful and important narrative device at your disposal is emotion. If people feel something through your story it can have a profound impact on behavior and attitude.

Relate-able stories of personal transformation, struggle and achievement will have bearing on engagement and takeaway. This is where deeper meaning lives. People want to be part of something greater than themselves. Help make that a reality. Use your brand’s Higher Purpose to create the foundation of deeper meaning and belief. If there’s a clear and compelling mission, it will become a rallying point for people who “join” the brand as advocates not just users.

  • Relevant, emotional, human, credible stories are the grist of business growth and enviable brand equity. Now you’ve got something relevant to talk about!

If you think a little fresh thinking would be helpful to refine your brand story, use this link to start an informal conversation with us.

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

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

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Five Steps to Successful Earned Media Outcomes

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

There’s method, expertise and relevance involved…

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

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

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

The essential truths

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

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

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

Five key ingredients to better non-paid media outcome

  1. Frame the larger story

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

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

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

2. Do your homework

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

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

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

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

3. Pick your targets wisely

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

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

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

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

4. Magic of vertical build

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

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

5. Editorial syntax in everything you do

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

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

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

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

It’s tougher than it looks

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

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

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

Simply said, reporters know if you know the drill.

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

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

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

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