Posts in Validation

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.

Principles of Brand Higher Purpose

What Marketers Keep Missing about Higher Purpose

August 24th, 2021 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Customer Experience, Customer Journey Map, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Transformation, Validation 0 comments on “What Marketers Keep Missing about Higher Purpose”

Why are brands getting it wrong more often than right?

Brand Higher Purpose is a vital strategic concept that will inform the success of modern relevant and growing businesses. Surprisingly, we discover it is frequently misappropriated or left unattended. Why? Brands can be held captive by strategies handcuffed to transactional thinking that intentionally or not, views consumers as merely walking wallets. This, however, occurs at a time when brand trust is at an all-time low. Facts are, the dynamic of how consumers relate to brands has moved on to a more enlightened relationship-based approach founded on reciprocity and mutual self-interest. Yet many brands are still operating on CPG marketing principles that are 30 years old.

What is Higher Purpose exactly and how do you deploy it to build your brand and business? We unpack the DNA of Higher Purpose best practices here.

The Foundation of Higher Purpose

Cultural changes are among the most important bellwether conditions brands must constantly study to remain vital and resonant to users. It’s why the Emerging Trends Report exists. Yet this important cultural sea change impacting food, beverage, lifestyle and related retail categories has languished in a backwater of misinterpretation. While Higher Purpose is a priority marketing asset, it is an all-too frequently underleveraged strategy.

The current era of purpose-built branding was presaged in a 2017 landmark study on food and beverage purchase behaviors authored by Deloitte Consulting and the Food Marketing Institute (rebranded now as Food Industry Association). Their report quantified and qualified what Emergent was already reporting: a seismic shift in consumer preferences and behaviors on the path to purchase. For decades, taste, price and convenience were the dominant consumer purchase motivators for food and beverage brands. This condition helped perpetuate the magnetic hold of large cap legacy brands that were inherently terrific at consistency and mass media awareness-building over time.

As issues and values began to hold sway over consumer preferences, we saw these new attributes surpass the historic patterns of buying motivation. The Deloitte/FMI study revealed that transparency, health and wellness, food safety, sustainability and visibility to the supply chain were eclipsing the traditional taste/price/convenience model on the path to purchase.

When issues, values and beliefs are as important, if not more so, than the product performance itself, what does that tell you? A cultural change has taken root and with it the advancement of purpose-built branding now supported with actionable consumer insight data. Yet still this strategic construct remains frustratingly anemic – rather than executed with skill and authenticity.

When brand purpose is defined as an unselfish, human-relevant purpose, great things can happen!

Higher Purpose is different than the transactional model that has dominated CPG and retail marketing plans for decades. It presents us with a more human-like path to brand building founded on reciprocity and contributing to the growth, welfare and quality of life of the people brands exist to serve.

To gain context, let’s first describe what Brand Higher Purpose is NOT:

  • Philanthropy or “cause” marketing
  • Another word for ESG commitments
  • A mission statement
  • A brand positioning
  • A campaign tagline or theme
  • Code for better PR strategies
  • Issues management

Brand Higher Purpose is founded in deep consumer insights about the lifestyle needs, aspirations and concerns that govern the lives of a brand’s best users. It is in this understanding that brand Purpose can be authentically defined and brought to life.

Two key issues to examine:

  • Your users want more from you than your good product. Are you prepared to give them the ‘more’ they seek and add deeper meaning to what your business stands for, does and works to accomplish for your users’ greater good?
  • If your brand value proposition is linked to your best users’ beliefs and values, and in the spirit of reciprocity – how would that impact your business operations and behaviors?

The three primary components of Higher Purpose creation:

  • Why your company exists, in the context of insight to your core users’ beliefs, values and aspirations.
  • How your company delivers on its why (purpose) through tools and strategies designed to bring your purpose to life.
  • What business are you really in based on your purpose, and how does that impact your operations, policies, standards, in-market behaviors and marketing?

Imagine the food retailer that determines it is in business to fully support the health, wellbeing and culinary creativity of its core shoppers. What tools and strategies would it deploy to bring this to life in education, product assortment and in-store communication and experiences?

Knowing this, what business is the retailer really in – knowing that the customer relationship is deeper than merely selling at velocity bags, cans and boxes off shelves?

Think of the impact this has on brand voice and meaning. What happens when the brand’s values and beliefs fully align with what consumers care about and aspire to become? What happens when a pet food brand determines it is in the pet lifestyle enablement business rather than selling high quality kibble and canned meals? It opens an entirely new conversation with consumers based on brand as partner, coach and guide on their pet parenting journey.

This is where relevance and resonance lives!

If you want to have a deeper relationship with your consumers, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning. To do this successfully the consumer must be at the center of strategic planning. Your goal is to define how the brand facilitates your consumers’ lifestyle needs and concerns.

Dove brands’ higher purpose revolves around supporting the self-esteem goals of its user base. Notice how this issue sits adjacent to but distinctly apart from the product attributes and benefits.

It’s always going to be a real, authentic, human-relevant purpose that sits above commerce!

Brand Sustainability Analysis

Emergent created a proprietary planning tool for helping clients determine the right higher purpose strategy based on brand history, strengths, consumer base, business operations and current marketing strategies.

We use this tool to define Higher Purpose for a brand and then how it will influence literally every aspect of how a company operates, creates products, innovates, treats it employees and goes to market.

If you want to learn more about the path to Higher Purpose, download a complimentary copy of our Brand Higher Purpose overview that summarizes the insights and strategies for a stronger, better and more effective brand marketing platform.

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.

Honesty about what's on offer is vital to trust

Nothing is More Important to Brand Trust Than Honesty, Integrity

July 15th, 2021 Posted by brand messaging, Brand trust, Insight, media relations, Navigation, Public Relations, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Nothing is More Important to Brand Trust Than Honesty, Integrity”

Your brand value lives in equal proportion to its transparency

Sadly, we report today that a beloved brand in the meat industry, Belcampo is mired in scandal over a shocking revelation that this paragon of sustainably-raised livestock finds itself caught in a web of deceit now exposed for all to see.

Belcampo was in many respects a beautifully, artfully created story of ethics, values and transparency that promised a better way to raise beef, wrapped in an aura of authenticity and deeper meaning. Emergent, so enamored with the brand virtues we saw unfold, reached out a number of times a few years ago to express our interest in helping build their brand. To no avail, but we retained such deep respect for how the vertical integration of their farm-to-door story was assembled with such skill and emotional resonance.

Now a whistle-bearing employee in Belcampo’s Santa Monica, CA retail store has blown the doors open to reveal in a see-it-with-your-own-eyes Instagram video that Belcampo had been deceiving customers. They were selling beef supplied by general meat counter quality distributors that was not organic, not grass-fed, and importantly not sourced from Belcampo’s ranch near Mt. Shasta. The employee states his apology for having lied to customers for two and a half years so he could keep his job.

Belcampo’s high prices reflects its origin story and so the deception was not only of product quality but overcharging for same. The video, complete with scanning labeled cases in the meat locker was unshakeable in its revelation. The company’s response was an amalgam of middling apology, claims of ignorance, attempts to minimize, and then downplay what is a fracture in the brand reputation.

Belcampo would be well-advised to end the spin and instead lean into 100% transparency no matter how painful that might be.

Honesty and Integrity are Immutable Laws

What do we have in our hands at the end of the day but trust granted by people who believe what brands say, and who endeavor to make decisions on the veracity of the brand’s stated claims. Brand trust has been in decline for decades and it is incidents like this that serve to reinforce the “I told you so” of why consumers find it difficult to accept the assertions of commitment or values proffered by businesses.

When profit and self-interest overtake the priority to operate in service of the customer’s welfare and wellbeing, brand reputations can be squandered. All of the years of story and build on a masterful idea at Belcampo, impugned in a most surgical way by someone looking to end the guilt.

Now is the time to renew our vows, to recalibrate and reconsider the respectfulness we grant to hold consumer relationships dear. All of us, all brands live in glass houses. Anything that can be known, will be known. Thus the immutable laws of how brands operate should be held steadfast even when the P&L is on fire during times of trouble such as the Pandemic.

For commodities like meat or fish or anything else sold fresh, this is especially true. Trust is held by the seller to convey that what is on offer is genuine. Of course, the higher the pedestal on which a brand sits, the steeper the fall should the rules of truthful engagement be violated.

The concept of enforced trust – Blockchain

For years now we’ve been reporting periodically on Blockchain technology as an enormous opportunity for brands to author a new chapter in brand trust, forever changing the path to market from farm to fork.

Blockchain’s great promise is an algorithm-based system that through the use of sensors and monitors and digital ledgers can authenticate every claim made by a brand back to the ranch or soil. It irrevocably marks the details of what a product is, how it is raised or farmed, when it was harvested, what happened during processing and transport – all the way to the store or restaurant.

The beauty of this technology is it cannot be manipulated by people along the path. Instead, it serves as a form of enforced trust that guarantees the truth from beginning to end sale. Imagine what it would be like to tell a story like that. For the retailer or restaurant, you know confidently what happened on the path from farm to back door on handling, temperatures and length of time. If it’s grass fed and grass finished Angus beef, you will know it with certainty.

We hope this technology will someday be widely adopted. As marketers we can see the powerful stories that can be created around it that will change the relationship consumers have with brands. It is inspiring in many ways. If we were advising Belcampo, it would be to get the Blockchain team in as soon as possible.

We can only hope.

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

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

Storytelling can change history, alter the path for brand growth

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

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

When Real, Powerful Human Stories Must be Told

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A David vs Goliath story if there ever was one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He quickly backed down.

The meeting went on.

Then, the sea change occurred.

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

Why did this work so powerfully?

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

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

You can do this, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail

March 13th, 2020 Posted by Agency Services, CMO, consumer behavior, e-commerce, Emotional relevance, food retail strategy, Human behavior, Insight, Retail brand building, Social media, Supermarket strategy, Validation 1 comment on “Coronavirus Call to Action for CPG and Retail”

Your next moves to retain trust and reputation

Right now, your consumers are worried, bewildered, concerned and uncertain about what shoes might drop next. They are being sent home from the office, schools are shutting, sports and entertainment events are gone, Spring break vacations are upended, and the future impacts of the pandemic are hard to predict.

We know you equally have concerns and are working hard to address any uncertainties. We’re with you and know your heart is in the right place.

This is a significant moment on the continuum where brand trust and reputation can be secured or injured. What you do next will matter, and it’s important to note that communication may be one of the most important assets at your disposal.

  • Honest, transparent messaging breeds trust and feeds patience, while silence will fuel uncertainty and dilute confidence.

Number one: communicate early and often

This is not the time to be quiet. If you make or sell a consumable product, especially food, beverages or pet food, people are worried about what comes next. Here’s what they want to know, right now.

For CPG

  1. Is there anything going on in your supply chain that will negatively impact the availability of your products? You may not have all the answers but it’s better to communicate current status than to stay silent. What you don’t know you state as such.
  2. What’s happening in your manufacturing, whether that be your own facilities or co-packers, with respect to employee activity, plant hygiene, and mitigation plans should people be sent home?
  3. What are your standards, methods, procedures on maintaining vigilance over ingredient integrity and safety, and testing for same through the product creation process?
  4. How can they get your products and services online? We know that feels like a ‘water is wet’ type question but it’s important and should be addressed in these conditions.

For retailers

  1. Are you able you keep customers apprised of out-of-stocks and shelf replenishment schedules?
  2. Can your pharmacy experts set aside scheduled time for by-phone consultations or online Q&A’s?
  3. Are you signaling home delivery wait times when capacity is stretched?
  4. What are your food handling an on-premise hygiene policies and procedures to help avoid any contamination?

The message matters

Your voice in this moment will impact the outcome. It’s important to avoid corporate speak, industry jargon and complex, “inside baseball” forms of messaging that only an employee can unravel.

A human, approachable voice including information that is presented with clarity and transparency will resonate with those you wish to reach. People routinely ignore dense, complex, analytical-style messages. Simple is better.

This is not the time for grand standing, self-promotional and brand-anthem style outreach that attempts to pass over the reality of what’s happening. Instead, empathy and care for the health and wellbeing of your users should ring through everything you release or post.

Next steps

  • Publish updates and trust-enhancing content at your web site and in your social channels on a weekly basis. More often if you have new news to share.
  • Keep it simple and straightforward.
  • Encourage dialogue and conversation at your social sites to invite questions from fans and followers.
  • As the situation changes, keep your stakeholders informed.
  • Be generous of spirit and look for “surprise and delight” opportunities and stories for users and channel customers. Celebrate helpfulness, acts of kindness, and ‘we’re all in this together’ kinds of inspirational unity.

Navigation leads to reputation

Your efforts to be accessible, approachable and honest here will lead to respect and confidence among the stakeholders that matter to the future of your business. Both internal and external audiences will benefit greatly from your efforts to keep them apprised of what’s going on.

As always should you need help navigating these uncharted waters, we’re here to support you with guidance, messaging, copy, media and anything else you might need.

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.

Taking Truth to the Bank

January 6th, 2020 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Insight, Transformation, Transparency, Validation 0 comments on “Taking Truth to the Bank”

Transforming business outcomes through transparency

How can we make marketing most effective?

Here’s a story about how an investment in transparency can make a big difference in consumer engagement and business outcomes.

Imagine a pet parent in a pet store looking for the right food to buy for their beloved dog or cat. Unlike human food where you can see if the steak is fresh and well-marbled or squeeze the tomato to determine if it’s ripe, pet food presents a bag of curious brown nuggets where the label becomes the lesson. Yet how do people truly know what’s inside the bag after trying to decipher the label jargon? Facts are you don’t. It’s a leap of faith.

Simply stated, consumers have questions burning inside of them. If we don’t answer them a disconnect occurs.

Why? The world we now live in is a skeptical place. People require trust and belief about the brands they care about but find it hard to secure when confronted almost daily in the media with half-truths, omissions, deceit and integrity challenges.

In this uncertain environment marketers want their messages to be seen, heard and acted upon. However, consumers routinely tune out and ignore many of those investments, in part because the messaging fails to connect in a meaningful and credible way. A dilemma we’re about to solve through applying deeper meaning…

Nowhere can we see this credibility challenge in greater relief than the pet food industry, a super high involvement category for pet parents, where the product form provides no visual cue about what’s inside or proof of ingredient quality. Yes, the label lists ingredient categories, but nothing to truly verify if the meat, for example, was fresh or raw and where it came from rather than the more common powdered (lower grade) version.

You already know that pets are revered, doted over family members. The most direct way to express the love we have for our furry companions is to provide the very best nutrition we can afford, given food is connected to pet health, wellness and happiness. People genuinely care about pet food, so how can we reward this significant level of interest and concern about diet quality? Please note, this concern is just as valid in human food categories.

Ironically, the vast majority of marketing communication in the pet food business suffers with sameness. From brand to brand, claims are made about percentages of high protein and meat use because dogs and cats are carnivores and their ‘ancestral diet’ leans heavily on prodigious amounts of these ingredients. It remains nonetheless an assertion, requiring trust that the brown nugget is made from the claimed fresh chicken. Incidentally sameness is a blur and lacks distinctiveness fueled with memorability, essential for marketing effectiveness.

Being overtly clever these days doesn’t really help because consumers work to avoid anything that walks or talks like shameless self-promotion.

Champion Petfoods and the industry’s first move to authentic transparency

Champion, in fact, makes some of the highest quality pet food in the business in their ORIJEN and ACANA brands. Yet this remains a claim, requiring said leap of faith for acceptance.

Trust is essential these days to business growth. But periodic recalls and product liability litigation du jour in the pet food business can dilute confidence. For the most part, pet owners feed their pets and “hope” all is well because the bowl is emptied, and Fido wags his tail.

Emergent and Champion wanted to leap over the category-wide skepticism and find a better path to consumer connection based on the pet parents’ keen interests. Champion has long-standing partnerships with regional farms, ranches and fisheries to supply their two kitchens in Alberta, Canada and Auburn, Kentucky. This essential truth could be brought to life and so we created the Champion Transparency Council with a team of outside third parties, including Veterinary physicians and real-world pet parents.

It was an industry first and required the company to be transparent in every way about ingredient sourcing and all aspects of product creation. The Council members were given complete access to the kitchen from loading dock to packaging line and also witnessed every aspect of how food is made. Additionally, they visited the farms, ranches and fish suppliers to see where the ingredients like fresh Bison and Catfish were sourced.

They were hands on with the fish later to appear in a bag of pet food.

Emergent helped build a multi-channel communications platform around The Council members’ experiences and independent reports. The Council participated in media interviews, ads were developed, reports were distributed through social media channels, and web pages established as a home base for their content. The Council members’ reports were personal, emotive and filled with examples of their own life experiences with their pets as well as what they saw, learned and experienced in Champion’s kitchens and supplier activities.

This program by the way, was Champion’s first engagement with an outside agency partner and so the entire program was built on a modest budget where every dollar spent needed to work like 10.

The bottom line – The Transparency Council effort made heroes of partner farmers and told stories through the authentic, credible voices of pet parents and Vets. As a pet business first, Champion’s visibility in the industry media went from near zero to a standout share of voice leader.

Most importantly, the Transparency Council verified and validated what Champion claims about their food and provided the evidence to earn trust and belief about pet diet quality among pet parents, distributors and key stakeholders. This coincided with the company’s successful move into Petco and helped the business retain the confidence of its large community of independent pet retailers.

Transparency proved the point. It helps people get to trust because the character of the communication is honest and trustworthy.

The secret sauce of this effort is the nuance and attention to detail required: from how the Council is constructed and managed to how the communication was presented, the messaging that was emphasized and timing of its distribution. Expertise as you can imagine is required.

Transparency can be a strategic lever to enhanced marketing outcomes

These days people want to know more about the foods and beverages they ingest. They care about the quality of ingredients used and want to know the backstory on where ingredients came from and the standards employed to ensure freshness, quality and safety.

The number one concern for consumers is health and wellness. This is served through the quality of the food and beverage they buy. This helps us understand why the food and beverage industry is being turned upside down in the quest for products with cleaner, simpler ingredients and responsible sourcing.

More often than not, opportunities are missed by many brands because the product creation story isn’t fully realized. Marketers want people to believe what’s claimed.

Trust must be earned and transparency is a trust engine. When correctly deployed it works to humanize the brand voice and build a deeper and more valued connection.

What’s your dormant transparency story?

How can you distinguish your brand as the one deserving of trust among your competitive set?

Emergent can help you discover how to leverage these insights for improved communications effectiveness and consumer engagement.

Let’s talk!

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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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