Posts tagged "content marketing"

Breaking the chains of interruption marketing

Breaking Free from the Handcuffs of Intrusion Marketing

June 22nd, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Breaking Free from the Handcuffs of Intrusion Marketing”

Embrace a new paradigm for successful brand storytelling…

In the history of modern marketing there have never been more ways to reach consumers. Yet it’s also never been harder to connect and engage with them. For decades brands have reflexively relied on various forms of intrusion to confront consumers with brand self-reverential, promotional messages. This approach is now widely rejected and avoided by its intended audience. Read on to learn the antidote to engagement misfires.

  • It’s truly hard to admit, but: “the unquestioned language of (traditional) marketing sabotages the stories we try to tell.” – Jonah Sachs, Winning the Story Wars.

People have changed – they want to be part of something greater than themselves. Yet even though the elements of powerful storytelling have been employed for centuries, it is largely ignored by marketing tropes preoccupied with promoting products to consumers leveraging the politics of fear, inadequacy, anxiety and status-seeking – often served with a generous helping of narrative vanity, puffery and insincerity.

It’s time to end the decades of antagonism between marketing and its audiences

  • We have a chance now to step beyond interruption marketing to build lasting, a more meaningful relationship with consumers that is grounded in deeper meaning, inspiration and values.
  • We are free today to build new stories that get noticed, create emotional affinity and maintain credibility in a world desperate to secure meaning and starved for transparency.

However, the drive for true engagement requires a shift in thinking and approach that initially can feel counterintuitive to the foundational principle of marketing as a sales generator. After all, aren’t we supposed to sell to earn a sale? Our tradition-bound way of thinking and operating leads us to believe the path to business growth is paved with pushing product feature and benefits at people. We just need to dress it up with some creative artifice of humor or entertainment as storyline palate pleaser – then, down the hatch, right? Sorry, but no. Consumers have figured out how to sidestep and ignore all of this.

Yet even with the self-awareness of this consumer engagement shift, like the hamster returning again and again to the wheel, the vast majority of brand outreach in CPG and retail sectors employs the same approach – now only digitized to fit into new media forms and channels. This form of selling was honed during the analog media control and persuasion era of the 1960’s and 70’s. It remains entrenched.

The electronic fake-out

Technology-led tools lead us to assume there are algorithm-based, digital solutions that virtually guarantee the selling message penetrates to the right audience in the right place at the right time simply by deploying the latest platform. We need only to flip the switch and boom, we strike marketing gold with clicks and views – even though people routinely drop out of the engagement in mere seconds and carts are abandoned by an endless river of distractions.

The essential truth about today’s consumer

We are shifting from a consumption-driven culture to one founded on a maturing view that the best things in life aren’t *things*. Instead, people want to transform themselves and the world around them. Here it is in sharp relief: we reach for deeper meaning and enablement from the brands we care about. We want to be inspired by beliefs and values that matter.

In short people are ready to embrace:

Optimism over fear

Sacrifice over greed

Citizenship over consumption

A recent advertising effectiveness study tracking the new-found marketing focus on sustainability revealed that brands producing sustainability ads focused on themselves – to tout their eco-bona fides – did not score nearly as well in engagement and recall as brands that created ads to inspire their users to join the sustainability mission and contribute to the greater good. That means substance over selfishness gains an audience.

Here’s a new value system brands can adopt as a core directional litmus test for improved communications, engagement and brand story themes addressing:

Wholeness – moving beyond self-centeredness

Mastery – learning, competence and the struggle to improve

Justice – investing in, structuring a moral center

Depth – examining life and its complexities and possibilities

Simplicity – understanding the essence of things

Beauty – recognizing and experiencing aesthetic pleasure

Truth – the polar-opposite of falsehood

Uniqueness – mining creativity and non-conformity

Playfulness – celebrating joy and life experiences

Creating cinematic, powerful brand stories

What do we know about Luke Skywalker in Star Wars? He was a seemingly ordinary young man who was drawn out of his comfort zone to follow a path that eventually led to epic heroism. He had doubts and insecurities. There were flaws to overcome. Everything he needed to succeed was already inside him, yet he clearly needed coaching to understand that.

A hero is someone who pursues higher level values, willing to sacrifice in service of others, who is pulled to adventure through a higher calling. Traumatic circumstances pushed Luke forward. Eventually he would break free of his fears. He encountered a mentor who would help him on his journey and give him the tools to succeed. Mentors act to help redirect will and strengthen the heroes resolve and confidence. Yoda helped Luke become a better person, a more skilled Jedi, a confident participant on a perilous path to fulfillment and redemption.

  • Every human being wants to be the hero of their own life journey. Your brand storytelling must always position your consumer as the hero of the story, not the brand. The brand’s role is always that of mentor, guide, enabler and coach to the consumer on their journey. Your content goal is to provide wisdom and tools to help the hero succeed.

It’s important to note great stories always include conflict, overcoming failures, the presence of a villain, danger, adventure, failure, improvement, empowerment and achievement.

When your brand stands for something, employs a belief system and is driven by higher purpose, you create the opportunity for transcendence. Your storytelling can move beyond an inward focus on self-promotion and touting product features, to celebrating your customer and all they aspire to do.

  • You can inspire them.
  • Coach and instruct them.
  • Enable tools and experiences.
  • Help them embrace the greater good and building a better future.

Marketing, then, is about sharing core values. This is the secret to creating engaging stories and an improved relationship with your users.

Yes, this isn’t easy!

To create a story telling platform that works, study is required of your best customers, their lives, loves, ambitions, fears, concerns, wants and desires.

Your brand’s language, voice and story must embed your brand beliefs, values, vision and higher purpose (you need to stand for something).

How this is expressed should be grounded in a clear understanding of your brand archetype (Pioneer, Rebel, Captain, etc.) and how that translates into a narrative unique to who and what you are.

The best storytelling techniques include the fundamentals of all great tales including tension, conflict, villains, drama, and the hero’s move to overcome odds, rise to the calling and win in the end. This story arc is as old as recorded history and remains relevant today.

Emerging food tech and a drama of the ages

Consider the vast array of new food technologies emerging right now, grabbing the attention of investors in their quest to reimagine how food is created. There’s a villain in here called climate chaos alongside the legacy food system actors that help perpetuate an existential threat to our existence and quality of life. The consumer needs/wants/requires a mentor and inspiration on the path to enablement and efforts to help rescue and change the world.

  • There’s just sooo much here to work with. Virtually any product category or retail business will benefit from embracing the consumer’s desire to seek a deeper truth and to be part of something greater than themselves (sustainability is a case in point).

When you do this your customers can become believers, followers, advocates and ambassadors because they embrace what you stand for and how your brand helps them participate in a profound mission.

This is the magic behind stories that work, that deepen the brand’s voice and draw people close. Or you can continue to self-promote product features and benefits to a world increasingly not interested in this for the very reason the brand then positions itself as hero of the story rather than the customer. Competing with consumers for the hero role creates an instant disconnect and a new barrier to any engagement.

If you think your brand will benefit from a refreshed approach to story strategy and content creation, use this link to open an informal dialogue with us.

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

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

Digital romance required to engage consumers online

Get consumer digital romance right or risk being left at the altar

February 18th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Social media, Social proof, storytelling 0 comments on “Get consumer digital romance right or risk being left at the altar”

You have a short time to earn trust

“Trust Creation is a leading, modern brand communication strategy intentionally designed to build credibility and authenticity. How Trust Creation is translated in the digital experience is one of the greatest challenges of our era.” – Emergent

According to McKinsey, during the first 90 days of the Pandemic more products were sold online than in the previous decade. In short order, consumer adoption of e-commerce and online engagement has accelerated past the tipping point and likely will never go back. Google forecasts by 2024 – just two years from now – 60% of all global spending will be digital.

Therefore, it is likely the first point of contact for any new consumer getting acquainted with your brand will be online, and it will be fast. You just never get a second chance to make a first impression.

  • Thus, your digital challenge: how do you get a perfect stranger to commit to a relationship with your brand online when you know risk and loss aversion is a universal human barrier to overcome?

It goes without saying, brands that get digital romance right will succeed (yes, it is romance by the way). Those that don’t get it right will risk losing the scarcest resource of all on our planet: consumer attention.

  • “The consumer experience is rapidly evolving from one built upon the transactional process of in-store shopping to one that is rooted in deep, ongoing and enriching relationships.” – Harvard Business Review.

Romance is all about values, trust, purpose, emotion and deeper meaning.

So now what?

The secret to a successful digital relationship is…?

We know consumers 100 percent of the time are focused on avoiding a bad decision and the regret that accompanies it. They are more concerned about loss and unsatisfactory outcomes than a perceived gain. What they require is trust and certainty. How will you deliver it?

The most important move you can make is to inject humanity into the online experience you create. Why? Because relating to a brand is now fundamentally the same thing as relating to a person. The future of healthy brand relationship in the digital space will be built on a foundation of admiration and trust.

Your digital experience must avoid being:

  1. Overly transactional – Myopically focused on selling things at the expense of lifestyle relevance and non-product related usefulness
  2. Technology focused on your ‘better mouse trap’ – Asking people to burn mental calories on complex tech messaging never works
  3. Self-reverential – It’s about the consumer and not self-promotion. They should be the heroes of your narrative (Read that again.)
  4. Analytical – People are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel

Instead, lean into emotion, celebrating the consumer as hero of your storytelling. When they see themselves in your content, it’s like holding up a mirror – a reflection of themselves and their interests. Now you have their attention. When it’s all about you, the brand is competing with customers for the hero role in your narrative. Bad idea.

The humanization of digital brand experiences

When you meet someone for the first time and a connection quickly forms, what’s going on there? People see early signs of: Laser-like interest in them and their needs, similarity, common values and genuine care. People pick up quickly on these attributes and signals.

What is it about the people we are drawn to and like? For the most part it stems from like-minded souls who actively show an interest in us, who we believe authentically care about us, and who can add value to our lives. Can a brand behave this way?

  • Or are brands handcuffed to the hard sell, unable to adapt and adopt more human-like behaviors such as care and empathy?

You understand now the consumer is likely to engage with your business online – a behavior that is only going to accelerate – thus leaving you with a short amount of time (the zero moment of truth) to gain their trust and belief.  We know people already seek to avoid loss and disappointment so what can you do to bypass risk and earn a relationship?

No matter the product you’re selling – be it cheese, pet food, shoes, cosmetics, software or beer – you are obligated to author conditions that will encourage personal connection and engagement. Your goal is to adopt the whole pantheon of respected, cherished human behaviors that we anticipate and expect from people we know and trust.

This is why your digital experience should be built around these Eight Characteristics of a Humanized Brand.

How will you amplify, facilitate and enable:

  1. Trust – reliability
  2. Integrity – honesty
  3. Conversation – dialogue
  4. Guidance – usefulness
  5. Shared experiences – common aspirations
  6. Reciprocity – unselfishness and being considerate of them
  7. Empathy – focus on them
  8. Shared values – ethos and moral character

Think about it –

  • Do any of us enjoy encountering the one-dimensional salesperson who is “always closing” and whose motives we suspect are not operating with our best interests at heart?
  • Do we gain much beyond the exchange of features and price if the only conversation we’re having online is product driven?
  • When consumers are looking for coaches and guides to help them fulfill their aspirations and lifestyle needs, is your brand answering the call?
  • Is your web site a fun and engaging place to visit and learn, get inspired and take away tools that help improve people’s lives?
  • Is your web experience a true mirror of your best customers’ lifestyle interests and passions?

Earning trust and respect begins with making the audience’s welfare and wellbeing an unselfish priority – this is how you earn the opportunity to engage on products and services. You just don’t lead with the hard sell if you expect to gain confidence and overcome the powerful motivation to avoid risk at all times.

Your web site shouldn’t be merely a digital brochure. It can’t be just an e-commerce transaction platform. A web site that is three-miles-wide and half inch deep focused on self-promotion with just a smattering of usefulness to navigating life’s complexities here and there isn’t going to achieve digital romance.

You have an enormous opportunity to break the conventions and traditions of selling and become a coach to customers who long for advice, ideas and inspiration. It may feel counterintuitive to be focused on customers beyond your own product story, but this reorientation is necessary when you know the consumer is now in total control of the brand relationship. Brands no longer dictate terms and can’t command engagement.

Here’s the litmus test:

Does your web experience deliver:

  • Emotional connection?
  • Learning?
  • Inspiration?
  • Entertainment?
  • Community and sharing?

Your brand will benefit by looking beyond self-interest to see the requirement for trust creation and to embrace the humanity it takes to get there. Knowing that digital engagement will be dominant for people, it’s time now to conduct an audit of the entire web experience to look for opportunities to refine your brand’s higher purpose, mission, content and experience – to better align with your consumers’ needs.

Want to have a deeper relationship with your customers, then imbue your online brand experience with deeper meaning. We can help you think through the challenges of relevance and resonance, humanization of your story, content and visual assets. This could be the most important conversation you have in 2022.

Use this link to say ‘hello’ and let’s get acquainted.

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

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

Marketing is Not a Department

Marketing is Not a Department

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

Company beliefs and behaviors impact business strategy

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

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

Still a department?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Higher Purpose is not a marketing program

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

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

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

Getting and keeping the customer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoppable video content

What happens when inspiration meets ability to buy?

November 10th, 2021 Posted by Agency Services, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Digital marketing, Digital ordering, Shoppable content, Social media, social media marketing, storytelling 0 comments on “What happens when inspiration meets ability to buy?”

2022 will be the year of shoppable content strategy

We are witnessing a merger between the point of inspiration and the point of sale as interactive content takes root, transforming social channels and digital assets from conversations and guidance into shoppable platforms.

Let’s begin by agreeing the future of commerce is all about how to successfully leverage context. Imagine stories that bring to life real-world experiences of creativity and delicious accomplishment in the kitchen where readers can act in the moment to acquire the ingredients for an exciting new dish. Right there, right now. Suddenly this seamless experience unites a great story with instantaneous resolution of that desire to make it yourself.

Shopping in the moment of mindful engagement offers brands an extraordinary opportunity to convert context and useful coaching into a purchase – without any disruption in the midst of media consumption. Call it friction-free execution of a desire to wear or cook or try something you are reading about in real time. Click, done.

As the path to purchase gets shorter, the idea of convenience takes on new meaning. Read it or watch it. Think about it. Desire it. Do it. There’s no hopping off with intent to investigate later. New tech solutions allow brands to integrate shopping functions into the story. Emotional triggers then lead to a convenient sale.

  • Your brand or store social channel and content strategy takes on new power and impact as it connects directly to sell-through without any added cost to acquire and activate the customer relationship.

E-commerce is already driving the future. U.S. consumers alone will account for $933 billion in online sales over the course of 2021. What’s been missing is a way to connect the dots between stories that inform with an ability to pursue a recommended product all the way to checkout – right from the article or video being watched.

  • According to Popsugar, 67% of millennial women say they would like to instantly purchase products they see featured in useful and educational content.
  • 91% of consumers would prefer to consume interactive, visual content that is available to them on demand.

Walmart and Meredith marry commerce and content

Walmart has landed on an opportunity to connect their 220 million weekly shoppers with content provided by the Meredith family of media brands including Better Homes & Gardens, Parents, EatWell and Real Simple. Embedded in the collaboration will be visual search, voice-activated assistance, chatbots and AI-based meal planning services. E-blasts from BH&G feature Thanksgiving recipes where the ability to secure ingredients from Walmart sits alongside prep instructions. Perhaps most exciting is a new shoppable “bookazine” that will feature editor-selected recipes from allrecipes 30 minute meals linked to a Walmart shopping cart. Shoppers will be able to access these content streams and commerce opportunities across the Meredith portfolio.

Ted Baker entertains and entices with shoppable video

Trend forward UK-based fashion retailer Ted Baker has created shoppable videos that bring story, entertainment and commerce to their online platforms, allowing consumers to shop clothing featured in the video with point and click ease. Video is a powerful and interactive storytelling medium. Adding shoppable callouts to the video stream enables decisions in the moment to buy the featured clothing while the story entertains.

Goldbelly to become the “QVC of artisanal food”

Goldbelly’s unique e-commerce platform presents a curated assortment of artisanal products and kits from famous chefs, A-list restaurants, noteworthy delis and lauded food makers. The entire proposition, which has fared especially well during the pandemic, is getting a material boost with Goldbelly TV – a web site-based channel of shoppable productions helmed by the very famous chefs whose products are featured at the site. The videos are extraordinarily good, polished and entertaining – a worthy example of ‘doing it right’ to engage visitors in a mouthwatering culinary adventure with a flavorful happy ending. The videos amp up the value proposition of every product or kit featured and then brought to life.

Thrive Markets creates their first shoppable cookbook

These integrated solutions don’t exist solely in digital environments. Thrive Markets has produced Healthy Living Made Easy cookbook. Available at ThriveMarket.com, the book offers more than 60 recipes featuring better-for-you, healthy ingredients. A single touch “add to cart” QR code on each page connects the consumer from recipe to easy shopping fulfillment. The book features recipes from more than 20 trusted experts, chefs and influencers in the health and wellness arena including Mark Sisson (Primal Kitchen), Amanda Chantal Bacon (Moon Juice) and Melissa Urban (Whole30).

Engagement connected to fulfillment. Remarkable. Game changing. But also comes with an asterisk of vital strategic guidance.

Start with useful, valuable content and story

Much of the marketing media has lauded the emergence of shoppable content with gushing commentary about connecting social channels to a sale. Emphasis on sale mind you. Great care should be exercised here not to violate the ‘utility and conversational’ rules of engagement.

Beware the early days of social media when overly aggressive sales pitches from some brands unfortunately treated social channel interaction as simply another “interruption” style broadcast medium. The approach abused the concept of trusted social conversation.

Care should be observed in how stories are built in this new shoppable space.

Content that’s engaging and leans into a compelling narrative to inform, educate and guide consumers on their journey is vital to respecting the quality and value of a mutually beneficial relationship. If content retreats to long-play extended sales pitch format, then the shoppable aspect will turn on itself and turn off consumers.

  • The story matters. How it’s told matters. Connecting the context of a solution in the narrative to buying is a service. It’s done without the unnecessary hype of “and if you act now, absolutely free with your order…”

Context is everything here. When we read about someone’s personal journey that references a product or service to help enable their passion or fulfill an experience, we respect that recommendation as an honest bit of advice. Respected experts and chefs sharing their expertise at the stove is valued by the audience. When served alongside the ability to easily acquire recipe ingredients, a moment of creative inspiration is rightly fulfilled.

It’s a win and a win. Context is served. Loop is closed. Just awesome!

If this story serves as inspiration to add greater interactivity to your social and content marketing schemes, use this link to ask questions and start a dialogue with us on your shoppable-social future.

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

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

Planning for consumer behavior relevance

8 Vital Steps to Successful Marketing Planning

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

How to amplify your 2022 marketing outcomes…

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

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

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

  1. Business objectives assessed alongside barriers to growth

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

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

2. Competitive analysis with a unique purpose

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

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

3. Importance of consumer anthropology

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

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

4. The ‘culture shift’ imperative

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

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

5. Brand higher purpose discovery and refinement

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

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

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

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

6. Evaluating spheres of influence

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

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

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

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

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

8. A word about KPI’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for radical differentiation

The Compelling Case for Radical Brand Differentiation

April 15th, 2021 Posted by brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, branded content, change, CMO, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Differentiation, engagement, Higher Purpose, Marketing Strategy, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The Compelling Case for Radical Brand Differentiation”

Distinctiveness – a recipe to win the consumer’s mind

The greatest challenge brands experience on their journey to stardom (or eventual decline) is an unrelenting force at work that drives sameness into category competition. Ask any brand minder and they will recite their product advantages, formulation improvements and what they deem believe are distinguishing features. Yet in reality these characteristics are often a mild gradation of difference. This all-too-common condition pushes purchase decisions into more marginal and subjective territory such as attraction to package graphics and photography.

If you want to win the battle for the mind, you need every advantage. That begins by recognizing the all but universal existence of traditional category conventions and behaviors. The trick is working overtime to separate the brand from the crowd in your category orbit. Like 10-year-olds at a soccer match, most competing category combatants chase the marketplace ball of go-to-market practices like a rabid pack around the field. They rarely separate fully to position themselves uniquely for a more strategic and ultimately game winning play.

Be different. No really, really, really different!

In every category brands must compete for share of brain, wallet, sometimes stomach, engagement, mattering and value to the user. Yet modern advancements in technology, innovation, ingredient sourcing and production have made it virtually impossible for any brand to sustainably own a secret sauce achievement over time. One that can radically separate it from the other contestants. Copying is now an achieve-able artform.

If anything, brand experiences become somewhat interchangeable and thus can (will) fall victim to lowest common denominator pricing maneuvers that create a pocketbook incentive for switching. On the other hand, brands with deeper relationships and emotional connection to users can overcome the frequent rust of commoditization and marginal distinction.

Here we make the case for radical differentiation!

Let’s work together to break the rules and category conventions of brand behavior by flying purposefully in the opposite direction. Your goals and objectives are better served by creating greater separation than deciding to “live with” the middle-of-road-ness that often exists side by side in how brands package and market themselves. It may feel safer to follow the pack, but in the end home run outcomes are unlikely when virtually every brand bat is going to be calibrated for a reasonably decent base hit with consumers.

  • In fact, different is more powerful than better. Better is always a shade or degree move (perceptual). Unique can win devotion past the purchase decision.

Where can brands strategically separate?

Let’s start with who you are serving. Time and time again we’ve found that redefining who the core consumer is can offer a healthy start on the journey to radical differentiation. “All things to all people” will never be a recipe for distinction.

In every food, beverage and lifestyle brand category there are unique consumer cohorts. We also know that in many instances a more involved and engaged category buyer is often a heavy user who will represent a disproportionate share of brand sales volume and profit.

Narrowing the definition of who you want to serve is your first move towards better brand health, looking for the pockets of greater fan participation and emotional investment.

  • We routinely conduct category segmentations not just to understand different cohorts shopping a set of brands but also to find the fanatics and warriors who are champions of a business based on their lifestyle and attitudinal quirks or preferences.
  • Persona development work is key to helping define these slices of marketplace enthusiasts – those more likely to resonate to what’s on offer.

How do you design for them? What do they want? What constitutes a surprise and delight? How can you enhance relevance and resonance with them? Yes this means picking a narrower audience profile for planning. However, we’ve repeatedly observed this sharpened focus will improve every aspect of strategic gamesmanship while creating efficiencies in media communication. It sets the brand up to really engage groups of enthusiasts rather than being simply noticed (or not) by everyone.

Re-packaging the story

Designing language, tone and story relevance to the right audience is critical to set the brand apart. Spending time navigating Oatly’s website is a fascinating tour of a business with a unique voice, wearing its beliefs and values like a form of branded organic fashion. It’s not for everyone and isn’t intended to be so. It is a separator from all others, a rebel brand archetype that steps away from dairy conventions to do everything differently.

The words and narrative are masterfully curated to reflect the brand’s higher purpose around sustainability and a belief that an authentic human voice is more engaging than clever marketing speak. If the audience focus has first been narrowed to a band of believers, then the story should be refined to reflect and mirror their interests, concerns and values.

Symbolism 

These days product purchases are expressions and visible flags of values people want to be associated with or known to others for supporting.

The Nike brand isn’t really in the running shoe or athletic wear business. It is in the celebration of human commitment to athletic improvement and competition business. The brand is drenched in symbols of belief, striving, personal improvement, effort and achievement. These values transcend the levers of commerce and elevate Nike from all other players.

Can you add symbols and signals to your web site and outbound content that aligns your brand with shifts in popular culture important to your brand’s relevance and resonance?  

Looking for white space (differentiation) and trends to lead (culture change)

White space discovery is harder than it sounds. Our brains are wired perceptually to see what’s there rather than what’s not there. So how do you discover white space innovation in crowded categories? You must become a zealot customer anthropologist, studying their needs, wants and desires looking for under-served or unrecognized need states.

Both Beyond and Impossible plant-based meat companies arrived on the scene at a time when consumers increasingly viewed plant-based products as better for them. A trend gaining momentum across the food store. Witness the rampant growth of plant-based milk brands that upset the legacy dairy industry.

Their radical differentiation was to walk the opposite direction of improving vegan burgers for vegans. They set out to make plant-based burgers for meat lovers. Audacious. Charismatic. An impressive move to assault the beefy meat case. Their claim was bold and unique. The product experience delivered and now it’s a juggernaut of business expansion. A real zig to the common zag of most plant-based food innovations.

Higher purpose

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to believe in brands that share their values, that provide a way to make a difference. When the brand voice goes beyond the product to embrace issues people care deeply about, the dynamics of the consumer brand relationship change. No longer just transactional, the brand is imbued with deeper meaning and the voice gains gravitas and potence.

This is how you create a community of activists, advocates, ambassadors and believers who can see themselves embedded in your mission. Remarkably this tends to lower the overall costs of marketing because the brand doesn’t need to beat people over the head with paid self-promotion. The community has its own engine, pushing word of mouth out horizontally.

Some of the more visible examples:

Patagonia and its out-sized commitment to sustainability

Ben & Jerry and its radical commitment to social activism

Panera Bread and its ongoing efforts to address hunger and transparency

Warby Parker and its mission to help provide sight to the seeing challenged

Timberland and its tree mandate to answer carbon footprint and climate change

Of note, higher purpose is a zig move for the very reason so many brands don’t recognize the value of it, or fail to execute authentically, fully. Higher purpose only works optimally when belief and dedication to the platform is religion inside the organization, flowing all the way through operations, marketplace behaviors and long-term strategic decisions.

What’s your higher purpose and the reason people should join your brand’s movement? Or do you still think a formulation tweak will lead to massive marketplace victory?

Designing to intentional difference

Radical differentiation is a strategic play. It is how you can win the battle for the consumer’s mind when (for the most part) product categories are noisy, fuzzy, blurry pools of sameness. Consider who you are serving and what a narrower focus could mean. Look at white space innovations and trends as an opportunity to step outside the category norms. Change your voice, behave differently at the shelf. Move out of the standardized look and feel in how your product is packaged.

Run in the opposite direction from the pack. You will stand out. People will notice. If it’s done right, it can mean a change in the future trajectory of your company.

Should this concept strike you as worthy of further exploration and you would like to get a fresh perspective on what it could mean for your business, let us know. We would love to discuss how this journey might benefit your brand.

Use this link to open an informal conversation.

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

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

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