Posts tagged "engagement"

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.

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.

Culinary inspiration should influence food retail strategies

Putting Food Inspiration at the Center of Your Value Proposition

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

Can a food retailer fall in love with food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evidence of Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Building the Human Brand

Building a More Human Brand

October 19th, 2021 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Growth, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Insight, Marketing Strategy, Navigation, storytelling, Strategic Planning, Transformation 0 comments on “Building a More Human Brand”

Time to banish the old marketing playbook

Remember the good old days of command and control, interruption-style marketing and business development strategies? Consumers were viewed as “targets” to be persuaded through repetition and subtle manipulation of their emotions or pocketbook sensibilities.

Vestiges of this way of thinking remain handcuffed to far too many brands that continue pushing feature, benefit and price messages at consumers in both digital and analog channels. Thus, why engagement is increasingly hard to secure. Consumers have become serial avoiders of self-promotional brand outreach as a result. No one likes to be “sold.”

It’s time to stop, reconsider and move on to build more human-centric brands.

Think for a minute about the people you care about in your life. Your family, friends and colleagues. Those closest to you enjoy a special position of value and affection. You’re concerned about their welfare and wellbeing. You make time for them, cherish them and invest in their progress. In short, you care. You express love in words and deeds. You listen. You help. You support and respect them. Moreover, you don’t see those relationships as merely transactional.

Now think about your business behaviors and how customers are viewed and treated. Is it the same? You say well, we’re in business to sell our products. To be sure, but maybe the goal of share and volume glory follows a different path now. One that is built on a model of reciprocity that looks more and more like the valued relationships we have in real life.

Not ‘data points’, they’re human beings

What are the five things your customers want from you?

  1. Inspiration
  2. Advice
  3. Guidance
  4. Education
  5. Entertainment

We have moved from a product focus to content. Are you optimizing the brand communications arsenal for help over hype? Here are three observations that should be considered in developing human-led brand communication.

Utility over cleverness

This may be the toughest consideration of all when viewed through the lens of ad creative traditions. It has been the province of creatives in the agency game to be focused on translating a key product selling proposition into the artful headline or theme. The theory: engagement is achieved through artistic wordsmithing. An artful turn of phrase or catchy tagline is prized as an achievement on the road to being “intrusive” and therefore noticed in the vast sea of message overload.

Times have changed and while great copy is going to be a key driver of engagement, the character and content of the communication is better served through its usefulness rather than pure cleverness alone. Attention is hard to secure. The path to gaining consumer participation is better aided by providing relevant value. That means the message moves closer to serving the consumer’s role as hero of the brand story, in a narrative that is helpful and educational more than self-promotional. It’s about them not us.

Someone is better than everyone

The definition of sound strategy is making tough choices. When the intent is to be all things to all people, the outcome is mattering to no one. It is better to focus on someone rather than everyone. To do that requires sacrifice. It means you select an audience cohort closest to the center of your most ardent user base. Then zero in on what they want and care about. Prune the rest.

In our own experience this played out to great effect when former client Sargento cheese agreed to focus on a consumer segment called The Food Adventurer. This audience of cheese lovers and heavy users care deeply about the quality of ingredients they use. They love to cook, pay attention to culinary media. They are routinely engaged on topics and content that help advance their skills in the kitchen and culinary creativity. By focusing here, Sargento created an opportunity to matter to an engaged audience of food fans, rather than speaking to everyone  (usually defined as moms with kids) across the expanse of the commodity cheese marketplace.

Make a choice, narrow the focus to those who care and are therefore listening.

Inspirational beats transactional

There is a great temptation to assume if you aren’t hitting hard on the product features and benefits, then you’re not selling effectively. But the world has changed. Gaining attention isn’t a math problem of calculating media channels to frequency of message distribution. If the relationship economy is respected, then you understand that winning permission for a conversation depends on following a different set of rules.

  • Your brand voice is built around empathy and care for the passions, interests and concerns of your best customers. You understand that the role of the brand in this relationship is one of guide and coach. Your goal to help them overcome the barriers to their success and fulfillment.

Your brand becomes a source of encouragement and education. Sargento helps the home cook deliver on their passion for creativity in the kitchen. Boom – now we’re talking. Literally. Now we’re actually communicating rather than monologuing. The brand stops barking at people and begins to engage in their community and lifestyle in a useful, valuable way.

When you speak to those in your orbit that you care about, are you selling to them? Pushing self-serving messages at them? No instead you are genuinely listening and helping.

The enlightened brand building of our era begins with injecting humanity into the marketing plan by making consumers the center of it and deciding to earn a relationship based on valuable-ness.

The last word: “Every brand is now a B-corp” – Ana Andjelic, The Sociology of Business

We are in the midst of another evolutionary shift. Consumers care deeply about your values, mission and actions to address social issues like climate impact and sustainability. They care about the impact their buying decision has on the world around them. They have connected the dots between their purchases and a consequence. They want to identify and act on more sustainable choices.

You can help them do that. But be aware that substance and authenticity matter here. Your own sustainability readiness house needs to be in order before invoking solidarity with consumers on these concerns. Sustainability can’t be a message construct floating independently from policies and standards that address the company’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment. There should be clearly expressed targets and actions steps to mitigate those challenges.

Embracing sustainability is yet another way to put the brand “in league” with consumers on a culture imperative issue they care about and expect brands to be part of the solution.

All of this coalesces around one key point: when brands understand that customer relationships these days operate a lot like the kind we have with people we care about, then you understand how the brand should behave and engage in that setting. More empathy, guidance and coaching than promoting. It’s time for the more human brand.

If this guidance strikes a chord as you look towards strategic planning in the year ahead, then let’s start an informal conversation about your concerns and needs. Use this link and let’s talk.

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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