Posts tagged "brand strategy"

Founders personify brand purpose

Is Your Brand’s Soul Strategy Your Sole Strategy?

May 11th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling 0 comments on “Is Your Brand’s Soul Strategy Your Sole Strategy?”

Without careful nurturing, the deeper meaning you started with will disappear

Truth is people care more about your *why* than they care about your brand’s how or what. While they aren’t necessarily enamored with your competitive specs and formulation wizardry, what they will resonate to is *why* you do it. Your purpose – your deeper effort to do something more meaningful – a mission that transcends commerce. These are the beliefs and values that draw people in, anchor their advocacy, and make them want to be members of your brand community rather than merely users.

Yet over and over again, we observe organizations failing to see the importance of these principles and in doing so, lose the magic that resonates and attracts people to the extraordinary promise that heralded the company’s genesis.

Your *Why* matters.

The why of every organization starts in the past, informed by the life experiences and aspirations of the founder(s) –people who were motivated to do something bigger than themselves. The foundational concept becomes the secret sauce that drives brands forward. It is, however, elusive, and can disappear over time if the cultural legacy and beliefs that lifted the organization to its initial success are lost. Future management teams may believe efficiency, cost control and improved processes constitute the levers of brand affinity and business growth. Not so.

Iconic brands are not immune to this almost inevitable and corrosive condition!

Charles Lubin, a Chicago baker, established the Kitchens of Sara Lee in 1949, naming it after his nine-year old daughter and launched his first successful product, a cream cheesecake. But it was a retailer in Texas who wanted to stock Sara Lee desserts that prompted him to reformulate so it could be successfully frozen and shipped long distances. Lubin invented the frozen baked goods category. He sparked innovations in production (foil pans) and flash freezing that fueled national distribution of his “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee” brand.

He retired from the business in 1968, then owned by Consolidated Foods (later renamed Sara Lee Corporation). As is often the case when the visionary moves on, if the deeper purpose, beliefs and meaning he brought with him are relegated to historical record, the heart of the enterprise’s belief system can get usurped by process, operations and balance sheet considerations. By the early 1990’s without nourishment of the Sara Lee brand soul, inevitable decline had set in. The parent company, now called Sara Lee Corporation, began to contemplate divesting its corporate namesake baked goods business. Tough to do.

The Wheatley Blair agency was retained on a rescue mission. Could we turn the business around? It would require radical moves, marketing finesse, a complete restage and especially, soul regeneration. Our strategy: unlike so many other food brands with made-up names, there really is a Sara Lee. Could we reinstall some of the magic and meaning by bringing her in to be the face and voice of the brand?

Soon we found ourselves sitting in Sara Lee’s upper east side apartment in Manhattan talking about her dad’s legacy and how much the business needed her help. Reluctantly she agreed to get involved and so we mapped a three-year strategy to revitalize the brand around her as spokesperson and personification of a new era at Sara Lee.

What happened next was truly remarkable. To launch a new line of baked goods with a lighter formulation, we created the first International Symposia on Dessert in Vienna, Austria – the world capital of dessert and pastry.

We flew 56 top North American food media to Vienna for three days of 24/7 dessert-centric experiences, seminars and tasting events. There, for the first time we introduced the world to Sara Lee the real, living human namesake. The media were smitten. The brand garnered more media attention than it had received in its entire history. This brought a refreshing injection of tangible humanity into a brand that had lost its anchor. Within a year the business started its upward trajectory and Sara Lee Corporation credited the strategy with turning the Sara Lee brand around at its annual shareholder meeting.

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?”

Steve Jobs understood this and saw it unfold in real time.

“Something happens to companies when they get to be a few billion dollars, they sort of turn into vanilla companies. They add a lot of layers of management. They get really into process rather than results, rather than products. Their soul goes away. And that’s the biggest thing that John Scully and myself will get measured on five years from now, six years … Were we able to grow into a $10 billion company that didn’t lose its soul?” – said Steve Jobs, circa 1984, in a Rolling Stone magazine interview.

Of course, Jobs was pushed out of his own company in 1985 and we know the Scully years were not necessarily a huge win for Apple. Until, the corporate “soul” in the form of Steve Jobs returned in 1997 to reinstall a refreshed ‘change the world’ vision and “Think Different” higher purpose. That purpose has remained with Tim Cook and the company continues to follow its inspiration and celebration of creativity and empowering individuals to change the world around them.

“I want to put a ding in the universe” – Steve Jobs

Apple doesn’t sell machines. Never has. Apple Macintosh was the first personal computer to offer a “graphical user interface” and mouse. Did anyone yearn for this tech? No. It was the point and click simplicity that elevated the experience. The story around enabling creative citizen communication and putting the power of publishing in the hands of any human was a dramatic departure from everything that came before it. The emotion-driven purpose that so resonated was: Empowering Creativity. Anyone’s creativity. Everyone’s creativity. No matter what the expression of that creativity was, you were now empowered to – borrowing from another – Just Do It.

Coffee culture and experience

Howard Schultz was struck by the coffee culture he observed in business trips through Italy. The sense of community and conversation that was part of the cultural vibe around the experience of enjoying elevated and refined coffee beverages. In its earliest days Starbucks was about bean religion and ingredient provenance stories for the vast improvement they brought over the current miserable state of coffee beverages sold in America.

He created the ‘third place’ as a personification of coffeehouse culture that turned Starbucks into a destination of enjoyment around subtle European sophistication cues. In those days coffee would be served in ceramic cups. People were encouraged to stay. It was a cultural immersion. There was deeper meaning, values and lore around coffee beverages, a veritable world tour of taste sensations (now taken for granted). When Schultz left the company some of its soul went with him. In his subsequent returns some of that magic came back with him trailing like the visible tail of a comet.

  • The biggest challenge any brand will face over time is how the organization continues to grow and prosper without diluting its soul. And if that happens, how to reacquire it by looking backwards, not forwards to the story and formative beliefs and values that drove the concept from day one.

Money is not a purpose, it is an outcome

Why is *why* so important?

Because it inspires trust. It reaches the heart. It is always heart over mind you know!

Nothing can be more important in the digital age when ‘anything that can be known, will be known,’ craters so many corporate and individual reputations. When the words used to describe what a company does are unrelated to price, quality, services and features, you have a clear indicator that the *why* has blossomed.

When Schultz departed Starbucks and subsequent management focused on what and how over why, the soul eroded and commoditization challenges took root.

Here is the essence of it…

When a brand clearly, resolutely communicates its *why* – its beliefs and values – consumers believe what the organization believes. People will go to great lengths to include brands with a soul in their lives. Not because of any analytical evaluation of product features, but because people hold up those brand values and beliefs as markers and signals of who they are, what they care about. Apple is a flag for creative expression. Starbucks was a statement of sophistication. Costco is not a store, it is a treasure hunt.

People form communities to be around others with shared values and aspirations. Companies can help foster those communities when the story they tell is grounded in higher purpose rather than product slogans, features and benefits.

When a company doesn’t offer anything beyond rational, analytical arguments about its product, it is attempting to force less than inspiring decisions on a purchase – and commoditizing itself in the process. The only games left to play at that point are attempts at manipulation through conventional interruption media and incentives.

  • People want to belong to something bigger than themselves. Can you provide that? People aren’t buying what you do, they are buying why you do it.

If you need help and guidance in reasserting your why, or creating the higher purpose for your brand, use this link to start a conversation with a team that understands how to elevate purpose as core strategy and a business anchoring system.

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.

Technology has leveled the competitive advantage playing field

The million-dollar barrier to great marketing has vanished!

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

A massive leveling has commoditized advantages

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

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

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

Seth Godin marked the change beautifully in a recent post:

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

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

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

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

All of these things are now incredibly cheap.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The large brand paradox

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

“We’re too big to fail”

“We’ve always done it this way”

“Our growth is aligned with the category performance”

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

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

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

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

“What if we (read: I) fail”

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

The new rules of engagement

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

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

The beauty of a level playing field

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

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

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

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

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

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

The psychology of risk

Is the Psychology of Risk Factored Into Your Marketing?

February 3rd, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Is the Psychology of Risk Factored Into Your Marketing?”

Your customers are not analytical decision-making machines

When consumers approach a purchase decision, are they focused on the merits and benefits of what you’re offering? Research on human behavior confirms that other issues are dominating their judgements. Read on to find out what’s really happening.

  • You might agree marketing and business strategy that is informed with a clear understanding of the human being you want to reach is going to be massively more effective than efforts that don’t take into consideration what we now know about how people make choices.

Ground-breaking behavioral research conducted over decades by renowned psychologists Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman on their Theory of Regret, forever altered the false assumption that humans are rational and analytical – making decisions based on objective consideration of the facts.

Today we will unravel the mysteries of how people behave to provide you with clear guidance on what the customer is actually thinking and doing.

People will pay a premium to avoid – wait for it – regret

According to scientific research, consumers’ 99.99999 percent of the time are working to sidestep making bad choices. Tversky and Kahneman’s analysis of choice decisions demonstrated that people focus on minimizing risk in order to reduce the chances of any regret. Said another way, people are not seeking to maximize benefits, instead they are trying to prevent or duck an unfavorable outcome. Boom.

  • Most marketing activity is based on presenting gains, wins, benefits to an audience pre-occupied with trying to determine if what’s on offer is a gamble (path to potential regret) or a sure thing.

Kahneman expressed regret theory in real-world terms this way: The nearer you get to achievement, the greater the regret people encounter if you fail to achieve it. The more control you believe you have over a gamble, the greater the regret experienced if it turns out badly.

People reflexively face regret for:

  • What they have chosen
  • What they wish they hadn’t chosen
  • What they should have chosen

What’s truly operating on the path to a purchase decision can be observed in any hesitation or reluctance (abandoned cart) to take an action. How the consumer is looking at the options before them follows their attempt to determine –

  • What is a sure thing
  • What is a probable gain
  • What is actually a gamble in order to secure a gain

When choosing between a sure thing and a perceived gamble, a person’s desire to elude loss exceeds the desire to secure a gain!!

Not surprising, people will pay handsomely for certainty. They will take the sure thing over the perceived dice roll every time. Thus, the power and impact of a well-defined brand with deep equity, trust and a strong value proposition.

So what exactly is this loss people seek to avoid?

A loss occurs when a person believes they’ve ended up worse off than their reference point. A reference point is a state of mind based on the status quo, or a standard defined from where they started. Please note, a gain or loss will always be connected to how a problem is presented. Changing the description of a situation can make a gain seem like a loss and vice versa.

Implications to marketing planning and strategy

A consumer world balanced on the pin of regret avoidance is a cry for certainty, surety, belief, trust and confidence.

  • What risk reduction tools are you using to erase loss while canceling potential regret?

It’s important to proactively manage the conditions, language and perceptions that influence consumer belief.  You want to erase uncertainty and the possibility of a bad outcome.

Where to start?

Descriptions – Language matters, how a problem or situation is framed can help or hinder the assessment a customer is inevitably making about certainty and risk avoidance.

Social proof – Consumers find claims of performance and outcome made by companies to be less trustworthy. They will believe their peers before they will believe you. Thus, social channels that behave more like communities where sharing is encouraged, perform the valuable service of offering assurance that what is promised is indeed consistently delivered.

Familiarity – If you’re working on the next great leap in food technology beware of pushing the science wizardry too hard instead of focusing on the more familiar, comfortable and assurance-building principles of food, nutrition and culinary cred for a product consumers will put in their bodies. People are wary of anything that appears to be too far away from the familiar territory of foods they understand and believe are real, safe as well as satisfying (taste).

Transparency – The more you disclose about how you do what you do, the more comfortable people get. This feeds the certainty of knowing exactly what’s in the product you make and where ingredients came from, while also speaking to integrity and honesty – two qualities people believe are sorely lacking in business behaviors.

Third party validation – Most product categories have identifiable subject matter experts and influential voices that bring credibility and cachet to the messaging table. If you turn them into promotional shills, their value is lost. Let the expert voices make independent evaluations of what you do and how you do it. Give them room to report on their observations and let the credibility flow from a respected voice that isn’t your own.

Verifiable assurance – For a cheese client experiencing a high degree of adulteration and food fraud in their category, we created a trust mark backed by one of the most respected food labs in the nation. They were given free rein to acquire products at retail independently and submit them to a battery of tests that verified the veracity of how the products were made when compared to the Federal standard of identity. It was proof the products were genuine, authentic, real and what was represented on the label was indeed accurate and truthful. Trust marks and third-party validation can bring another level of consumer confidence to the story being told.

Now you are aware that this universal human trait of risk avoidance is a dominant consideration for people on the path to purchase. Your objective, then, is to work accordingly to secure confidence, trust and belief in a manner that reduces or eliminates any perception of risk or uncertainty that might fuel consumer regret.

  • Do this, and you will answer what most often lies at the foundation of a disconnect for people who are unwilling to try your new product or store. Why? Because they see risk of a bad outcome if they don’t like it or concern it won’t deliver on their reference standard expectations.

Is it time to audit your marketing plans and messaging strategies to ensure the psychology of risk is fully addressed? If so, use this link to invite an informal conversation with a team of experts who understand the anatomy of trust creation.

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.

Culinary inspiration should influence food retail strategies

Putting Food Inspiration at the Center of Your Value Proposition

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

Can a food retailer fall in love with food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence of Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meat agriculture impacts on pet brand sustainability

Which Pet Brand Will Emerge as the Sustainability Leader?

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

The one that knows the secret to sustainability success…

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

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

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

Why sustainability is a pet category game changer

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

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

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

It’s time for a new pet brand mantra anyway

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

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

Where’s the beef?

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

The secret to sustainability success

Fly right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anatomy of a pet brand sustainability winner

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability Readiness

Companies are over-estimating sustainability readiness

December 8th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, Climate Change, climate culture, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, storytelling, Sustainability 0 comments on “Companies are over-estimating sustainability readiness”

Analysis reveals aspirations may mask reality

A summary analysis of recently completed sustainability readiness questionnaires has revealed a measurable disconnect for participating brands between their sustainability activity and authentic performance. Based on results scoring, brands responding to Emergent’s initial questionnaire routinely over-estimate current sustainability readiness conditions by an average of 25%, ahead of a reality-check discussion to pressure test the survey responses.

The first step in Emergent’s Brand Sustainability Solution program starts with answers to a Sustainability Readiness questionnaire. It is designed to establish a baseline understanding of where a brand or business currently sits on the readiness pathway.

The Sustainability Readiness questionnaire self-evaluation process is focused on four key areas of sustainability performance:

  1. Scientific, data informed review of carbon footprint and Lifecycle Analysis (LCA)
  2. Consumer insight research to determine what areas of sustainability solution and commitment are most important to brand consumers
  3. Establishing metrics to track business performance and outcomes of sustainability investments and commitments
  4. Marketing communications strategies and tactics to tell the brand sustainability readiness story to consumers and relevant stakeholders

Emergent analyzes the questionnaire responses and produces a readiness scoring report for review with the individual or team submitting the evaluation. Invariably through more detailed conversation around outcomes and existing company behaviors, policies and mitigation activities, a different picture begins to emerge!

Aspiration can skew reality

Sustainability is now one of the most significant transformational strategies impacting brand communication and business growth. It is a key driver of competitive marketplace advantage. Why? Because over 66% of consumers now care deeply about more sustainable choices in the products they buy. People have become aware of the connection between food production, food ingredients, and potential negative impacts on the environment.

As companies prioritize sustainability and seek to answer this cultural shift in consumer sentiment, the priority to make performance claims can at times color actual readiness status. The Brand Sustainability Solution process is designed to determine quantifiable carbon targets, mitigation policies and develop solutions to truly walk the walk that supports credibility when talking the sustainability talk.

A recent investigative news report on McDonald’s sustainability misfires reveals why the authentic baseline carbon footprint assessment and related mitigation policies are so important to avoiding the possibility of greenwashing risks and scrutiny.

Corporate enthusiasm for claiming sustainable bona fides at times can obscure the correct and proper evaluation of specific actions the company must undertake to manage its carbon impact, evaluate resource consumption alongside energy use, and track backwards through the supply chain.

You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are

The challenges begin at the front door of science-based, data driven carbon footprint analysis that often remains untouched and unfunded on the to-do list. It isn’t possible to verify the company’s current readiness state or to establish quantifiable benchmarks for improvement over time without this review. Establishing baseline sustainability performance measurement will inform every aspect of readiness and the optimal brand communication that follows it.

More often than not, we’ve found that brand sustainability assessment is limited to low hanging fruit solutions such as improved packaging or reduced energy use. Most of the significant sustainability challenges exist in the supply chain, where food ingredients often deliver an outsized climate wallop. How come?

Agriculture is the second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) in the environment and the largest user of land and water resources. Within the snapshot of agriculture’s impact on climate, raising livestock for food is by far and away the highest GHG contributor. It is led by ruminant animals including beef, lamb and dairy in the form of cheesemaking. The combination of the animals themselves combined with re-purposed land use, natural resource over-consumption and raising crops to feed them, all coalesce to deliver excessive levels of highly toxic methane gas and nitrous oxide.

Regenerative farming practices that work to sequester more carbon and the development of non-animal protein creation technologies such as plant or microbe-based meat and dairy solutions, can help diminish the overall impact. But only when you know what it is you’re trying to reduce over time.

Two major culprits in aspirational assessment

Emergent’s study revealed two other hotbed areas of over-zealous sustainability performance evaluation. First and foremost is brand communication. It is the easiest lever to pull, one that can quickly get ahead of credible sustainability readiness when the messaging isn’t grounded in the science-based analysis of carbon impact and related improvement targets. Brands routinely reward themselves for getting ‘out there’ with sustainability storytelling, that may inadvertently invite media and consumer blow back when it isn’t anchored to authentic mitigation performance.

Right behind story is establishing the baseline infrastructure for measuring sustainable business performance. Investments in sustainability improvements should be tracked against business outcomes. This is the only way to know if the sustainability readiness platform is functioning fully and correctly. It is important to note that sustainability is ‘aging out’ of traditional CSR, and rapidly evolving into ESG – hence a part of business performance. The C-Suite must be involved in sustainability programming to ensure the right level of true organizational commitment.

We know consumers care deeply about sustainable choices. They are also getting smarter about what separates empty claims vs. substantive behaviors and policies that are well-executed. We have a proven, verified link now between optimal sustainability readiness strategies and competitive marketplace leverage that results in market share and volume growth. Integrating business measurement into the game plan is vital to assessing how well the entire sustainability strategy is progressing.

Fly right to reap the benefits

Transformational change has already occurred. We are living in the midst of a culture shift that is demanding companies step up to make improvements in their sustainability policies and standards.

When grounded in science and driven by informed communications strategies that help brands gain credit for their efforts, brands and businesses will out-perform the competition while establishing leadership in an area that will impact consumer preference for the foreseeable future.

If you’re interested in assessing where your business is today on sustainability performance and where it could go tomorrow with the optimal readiness program, click HERE to take the free Brand Sustainability Readiness questionnaire. The scoring and analysis are provided at no cost.

We promise a revealing, interesting and informative conversation that could open a new chapter of growth and prosperity for your brands in the year ahead.

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

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

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