Posts tagged "brand trust"

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.

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.

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.

The CEO Bulletin

Trends Impacting Where Your Business is Truly Headed

October 14th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, Carbon footprint, change, Climate Change, climate culture, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Growth, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Sustainability 0 comments on “Trends Impacting Where Your Business is Truly Headed”

Early adopter behavior driving the marketplace

Emergent appreciates our growing CEO and C-suite readership. Our goal is to provide meaningful trends analysis and strategic guidance through the Emerging Trends Report. We are introducing a special series – the CEO Bulletin – intended to inspire new thinking on organization planning and strategy. Should you have a topic you’d like us to cover – drop us a note. Your comments and feedback are always welcome.

Sustainability will be the most important strategic consideration for your company in the coming year, and Higher Purpose will be a key point of differentiation that helps move your performance in the marketplace.

Here’s why.

Sustainability is no longer a tertiary, benign or merely aspirational construct. This strategic imperative is connected to the health and wellbeing of the planet on which we live. Early adopter consumers see conscientious consumption as their flag and are empowered to signal to the world around them that climate-responsible products are their first choice. Half-baked solutions and absence of Climate Footprint and Life Cycle Analysis fundamentals that guide mitigation metrics will be exposed for all to see. These influential consumers are driving expectations, preference and marketplaces.

Being responsive to their Sustainability concerns isn’t just the “right thing to do” it is a source of competitive advantage and a critical point of leverage on the path to growth in marketing, distribution and sales leadership.

  • Imagine the friction consumers are encountering right now because it’s nearly impossible to sort which product is a more sustainable choice at retail. The consumer’s priority is once again ahead of brand performance in the marketplace. Who will be first with the most? How will sustainability impact labeling and retail navigation?

When cultural changes take root, it presages larger shifts in sentiment – leading to momentum deviations that are an immutable guide to strategic investment. What should be at the forefront of your thinking now is the very real potential of ending up on the wrong side of this sea change. Not because the word sustainability is left out of your brand communication lexicon, rather because it is not fully, correctly built out, thus creating real vulnerabilities around greenwashing. People will notice, experts will weigh in, influencers will influence. There will be winners and losers in the “Sustainability Battles”.

Moreover, we have data and proof that fully realized sustainability strategies lead to share growth and sales leadership in your respective category. Why? The same rule applies here: because consumers care about it and support businesses that authentically walk the walk of climate impact mitigation alongside business strategies that clearly, emphatically support authentic sustainability practices. Consumers are watching. Early adopters are showing them what to do. This creates a steamroll effect that leads to category upheaval as smarter brands overtake the laggards and pretenders.

  • Recent research conducted by IRI and the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business indicates consumer uptake of sustainability marketed products has remained strong despite the Pandemic. Sustainable brands outperformed conventional alternatives across 36 categories in 2020. The segment achieved 16.8% of total purchases in a banner year for CPG sales. 

Think differently

Sustainability practices should lead business strategy and will have a profound impact on new product launch initiatives. This isn’t just a corporate commitment, it’s an anchor at the street level to differentiation, meaning and value and must be fully baked into marketing planning all the way through to execution.

  • What will your brand voice be on this? What evidence can you provide to the early adopters who know great practices from anything less than that? How is this integrated into your story and narrative? You already know that story-well-told is where all of this begins and takes root.

In a recent report at Pet Food Industry magazine, one quote-able source nailed the conditions squarely:

“Clean label will move into sustainability — how are pet food manufacturers being more conscious of the environment?” said Tammi Geiger, marketing manager U.S. for Oterra, a supplier of natural colors. “How are they producing their products so they are having a positive impact on the planet and even communities? Manufacturers will be asked by their customers to tell their production story and they will therefore put pressure on their ingredient vendors to have sustainability as a main focus. This can be a way to differentiate from other brands as well.”

Purpose is a marketplace imperative

You can see the pattern emerging. Purpose, beliefs and meaning equate to value and preference. The trouble with Purpose is you can’t bolt it on as a marketing message construct. Purpose needs to emanate from why your company exists, what you are doing to empathize with user needs  and how are you adding value to their quality of life in tangible ways.

Sustainability and higher purpose are family, joined forever in a union that showcases how people have changed, what matters and the real drivers of competitive advantage that goes way beyond the features and benefits layered into your products.

You need:

Purposeful brands

Purposeful labels

Purposeful shopping experience

Purposeful supply chain

Purposeful organization

Purposeful employee policies

Purposeful corporate soul

There is a natural tendency to lean in on technology and better mousetrap thinking. To be sure product quality and innovation are key to brand and business health. But the truth of the matter is brand beliefs, values and higher purpose matter even more on the path to success. The world has changed, and you must change with it to remain relevant and resonant.

The chin you lead with

Now more than any other time in the history of business and marketing strategy, uniqueness and differentiation are key to elevating your business above the vast degree of sameness and similarity that exist category to category, retailer to retailer.

Higher Purpose is a differentiator!

This is how your unique company DNA and value system gets wired into the brand narrative in a manner that’s own-able for your organization. It manifests in how your business operates to meet the life-journey aspirations of your customers. Note: you have to truly care about the welfare of the people you serve to make this work.

Our Brand Sustainability Analysis process is designed to optimize this requirement for the very reason it is aligned with consumer preferences and behaviors. The early adopters you encounter are the ones creating influence that drives momentum changes. What becomes popular, noticed and sought after should factor in to your strategic thinking.

  • Purpose is a center-of-bulls-eye concept that works seamlessly into the sustainability recipe as a component of business and brand value.

If fresh perspective and assessment of your sustainability and purpose bona fides would be helpful to your planning, use this link to open an informal conversation with us about your needs. We promise a thorough, complete analysis of competitive advantage at a time when consumer behaviors are changing the game around you.

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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