Posts in consumer behavior

Culinary inspiration should influence food retail strategies

Putting Food Inspiration at the Center of Your Value Proposition

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

Can a food retailer fall in love with food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence of Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meat agriculture impacts on pet brand sustainability

Which Pet Brand Will Emerge as the Sustainability Leader?

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

The one that knows the secret to sustainability success…

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

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

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

Why sustainability is a pet category game changer

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

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

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

It’s time for a new pet brand mantra anyway

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

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

Where’s the beef?

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

The secret to sustainability success

Fly right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anatomy of a pet brand sustainability winner

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability drives revenue

Sustainability to Drive Brand Preference and Sales Growth

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

Moral imperative motivating action

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

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

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

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

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

The coming shopping friction

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

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

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

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

Feeding the primacy of emotional outreach

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

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

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

Is a trust mark needed?

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

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

Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

Matching sustainability readiness to business performance

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

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

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

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

Relevancy drives business growth

Relevancy is Key to Your Brand’s Traction

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

Strengthening your cultural connections is vital to sustainable growth

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

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

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

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

Here is our guide to relevance and connection

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

Is your brand engaging in the world around it?

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

Is your brand viewed as a positive influence?

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

Is your brand a contributor to users’ lives?

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

Designing for enhanced relevance

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

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

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

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

  1. Consumer lifestyle insight

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

2. The customer experience journey

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

3. Creative thinking around your future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for consumer behavior relevance

8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning

September 13th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand strategy, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Differentiation, Digital marketing, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Influencers, Marketing Strategy, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning”

How to amplify your 2022 marketing outcomes…

We’re in the thick of strategic planning season as food, beverage and lifestyle brands and retailers finalize their go-to-market strategies for the year ahead.

  • How do you ensure your plans will deliver the most benefit for every precious dollar invested?
  • What are the optimal elements in a marketing plan that will secure consumer and trade partner engagement?
  • What are the must-have components to deliver on your business objectives?

Here we examine the eight key elements of a marketing plan that removes risk and installs trust – a must-have on the road to business success no matter what stakeholder audience you are working to influence.

  1. Business objectives assessed alongside barriers to growth

Far too many marketing plans begin with declarations of business targets served up in a manner that implies it’s simply a matter of turning on the advertising faucet to deliver on the intended outcomes. A richer and more productive internal discussion will occur if the objectives are included alongside an honest, real-world assessment of the barriers that exist to delivering them.

Mind you, there are always barriers. No one goes to market in a vacuum free of systemic challenges and threats to success. It is in this act of realism and reflection that the executive team has a useful discussion on what must be overcome in order to win in the year ahead. This works to remove what we characterize as “hope-ium” from the plan discussion and gets everyone focused on contributing to ways of mitigating or navigating around the threats.

2. Competitive analysis with a unique purpose

Intentional or not, in many categories there is a fair amount of sameness that exists among brands matching competitor moves with comparable programs, product offerings and messages. If a brand is set up from the start for radical differentiation, then the chances of stepping into the similarity trap can be averted. Resemblance is an ongoing challenge in marketing. When communications is close enough that brands could literally interchange competitor names and the key message still works, you know a problem exists.

Instead, competitive analysis should be focused on looking for unmet needs and whitespace opportunities to zig when everyone else in the segment zags. Your goal is to be different. (No, really, really different.) And in doing so, stand out in a sea of category sameness.

3. Importance of consumer anthropology

Perhaps the most important element of all in marketing planning is the right kind of research to help inform strategy. This isn’t about data crunching around demographics of shopper populations. Relevance and resonance are everything to dialing in your communications plan for optimum impact. This simply can’t be done without the kind of insight research that truly peels the onion on your best users’ lifestyle concerns, passions, interests and desires. Users are humans not data points. You will get further by imbuing your brand with deeper meaning that reflects the values and beliefs of your heaviest users. To know them, literally, is to love them.

These cohorts are often the most important to your profit plan as they usually represent those who bring the highest volume and repeat purchase behaviors. The role of your brand is as coach, guide, educator and enabler on their lifestyle journey. You can’t do that without gaining insight into how they think, behave and what they care about. This is different than pushing analytical, fact-based messaging at them on formulation or technology specs. It’s always heart-over-head. All humans are emotional creatures who think and not the other way around.

4. The ‘culture shift’ imperative

Trends are far more important than ever before to influencing consumer preferences. Media influences the crowd and where the crowd of like-minded users goes will simply attract more and more ‘followers’ (this means the social conversation that’s going on matters to your strategic game plan). Right now, sustainability could not be more important as a culture change signal.

A large swath of the consuming public is enamored with sustainability behaviors, policies and standards created by brands to help mitigate their impact on carbon contributions and the environment. It is imperative that food brands with a heavy investment in meat ingredients take this into consideration. Just be careful not to invoke sustainability as a priority ahead of having the right science-based assessments of your carbon footprint. You want to avoid falling into the greenwashing trap. Sustainability is now associated with climate impacts.

5. Brand higher purpose discovery and refinement

Purpose-built branding is not a nice to have any longer. It is a vital construct that sits underneath your organization as a true north of why the company exists. Important to note, purpose is always built around a real human-relevant insight and not a corporate axiom like increasing shareholder returns. It has nothing to do with philanthropy and cause marketing. It has everything to do with a purpose that transcends the product offering and is married to how you improve your customers’ lives and the world around you.

More often than not, we find this key strategy that informs everything the company and brand stands for is under-nourished or treated as a cause-related project. The key questions to address:

  • Why are you in business (this isn’t just about business growth)?
  • How do you deliver on your why?
  • What business are you really in based on your why?

A Higher Purpose platform should be embedded in everything you do across the organization.

6. Evaluating spheres of influence

The internet has fractured the consumer world into micro-communities of shared interests and passions. It is in these communities where people filter, find and decide what to buy. There are influencers within these communities who are important to discovery and trial, to establishing the definitions of what is better and why.

The marketing plan should include an evaluation of these micro-communities and the leading voices within them. Here your brand should engage as a contributor to the conversation. Relationships should be built with the leading voices, not to co-opt them but gain their trust.

7. Assessment of outside third-party expert voices and contributors

Trust is harder than ever to achieve. 99.9999 percent of the time consumers are operating with one goal in mind – to avoid making a bad decision. Brands should engage the voices of outside experts and credible authorities to verify and validate what you want consumers to believe about your brand, business and Higher Purpose. These voices can add a layer of credibility to your content marketing plans and pull in a note of clout to key messages you wish to convey.

How these relationships are created and deployed is key. Be careful not to position these voices as brand promoters who come across like paid shills. They are there to validate, to deliver authentic “reports” on what you are doing. Trusted voices are essential to building belief, and trust is fundamental to your success.

8. A word about KPI’s

These days it’s standard fare to embed your evaluations with digital data given its availability across all of the social and content platforms where you deploy communications. Levels of perceived engagement are relatively easy to come by based on online behaviors. People, however, can also be fickle and unpredictable.

Creating a baseline of consumer insight research is invaluable not only to better understand what makes your users tick, but also to go back in later and assess changes in attitudes and behaviors over time.

These evaluations carry more horsepower because they dig into shifts in priorities, interests and activity on the path to purchase and whether or not your key messaging is getting traction.

All of this great work feeds creativity and informs strategy. It can lead your business to leaps in share. New users will enter the fold because your brand truly stands out for all the right reasons in a category where many players tend to blend together.

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.

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