Posts tagged "storytelling"

Trust drives consumer engagement

40,000 Respondents Confirm Values Matter More Than Product

January 20th, 2022 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, CMO, Consumer insight, Higher Purpose, Human behavior, Social media, Social proof, storytelling, Transformation, Validation 0 comments on “40,000 Respondents Confirm Values Matter More Than Product”

Trust in advertising report spotlights the true path to consumer engagement…

Is it possible what your brand stands for will be more important than the product you make?

Yes. Read on.

Nielsen’s latest Global Trust in Advertising Report confirms a cultural sea change has taken place. The comprehensive survey advances new guidance that brands and retailers should reconsider their traditional single-minded devotion to product-centric communications strategies. The report signals emergence of a different roadmap to credibly and effectively secure consumer attention. A more enlightened path that is paved with higher purpose, mission and values ahead of glossy product features and benefits.

The rise of interest in more human-centric values reflects consumers’ need for trust in a marketing environment they believe lacks credibility and validation.

Don’t underestimate the importance of cultivating trust to brand communication effectiveness

For five years, Emergent has tracked the steady decline in brand and corporate trust alongside the parallel rise in why businesses must put the consumer and their requirement for trusted relationships at the center of strategic planning. Is this a feature in your marketing plan?

  • A recent sustainability trends report published by Mintel concluded one of the greatest barriers businesses face in getting credit for sustainability readiness is the consumer’s dramatic shortage of trust in their claims of performance. People find it harder to believe assertions made by companies on their commitment to sustainability standards and mitigation policies. (Hence the need for credible validation).

Nielsen’s study verified that consumers are placing greater importance on values, beliefs, inspiration, deeper meaning, humor and family. According to Cathy Heeley, Nielsen Media Analytics Lead, “People are much more interested in how a brand is going to help the world, not just what benefits a product has to offer. Consumers are looking at what brand values actually mean, what they stand for and their practical application.” Actions always speak louder and more believably than words alone.

Leaders across the globe should be asking: how do we propel and harness the power of our brand as a force for purpose that creates deeper meaning and societal benefit?

  • Brands should declare a clear point of view and create inclusive spaces of belonging.
  • They should also provide an opportunity for people to make a difference, while securing the greatest opportunity to generate impactful meaning in the world.
  • This commitment acts to galvanize both users and employees.
  • Now more than ever, leaders and decision-makers should cultivate a workforce while serving consumers in a way that requires the brand to stand for more than just profit.

The oldest millennials are entering their 40s, while Gen Z is carving its own unique space in the working population. The traditional hierarchical structures – two-week vacation policies and in-office incentives that are linked to growth – are no longer motivating enough to join an organization. The new generation of workers values higher purpose before profit.

Why are brand mission and values rising in importance to people?

Cultural change sits at the foundation of how these changes manifest and how consumers think – an important consideration when deciding how best to frame marketing strategy and communications effectiveness.

We are witnessing a cultural evolution. It first started in the early aughts following 9/11 when the disruptive shock to the nation caused people to re-evaluate their priorities and focus on relationships, family and values over other lifestyle and career considerations. Simultaneously control in the brand-to-consumer relationship was shifting entirely away from companies.

The Internet served as a fantastic enabler of consumer awareness and learning that also exposed the weaknesses of conspicuous consumption.

Dawn of the relationship economy

Underneath these cultural moves came a transformational change in the brand to consumer relationship, now taking on the characteristics of what we treasure in our human relationships – trust, meaning, reciprocity, values, investment, care and consideration for others.

Simply said, people want to be part of something greater than themselves. The search for deeper meaning was fully underway and with it came the initial priority placed on health and wellness and how choices will impact their quality of life.

Brands today must act as guide, coach, trusted advisor and enabler to consumers on their life journey. Yet more often than not, we find marketing strategies still anchored in self-promotion of product feature to benefit, embedding the brand communication with a systemic disconnect due to the weakness in consumer relevance.

The next evolution coming in 2022 – societal change and sustainability

Meanwhile trust in government as a catalyst for societal change has also diminished. Consumers now believe that companies are in a unique and better position – and have an inherent responsibility – to enact positive societal improvement.

Chief among these concerns is the hyper-focus on sustainability that has morphed into more specific questions about how companies source materials, ingredients and how they operate in a way that mitigates carbon footprint rather than contributing to the emerging chaos of climate change.

What should you do?

  1. First and foremost, refine and optimize your brand’s higher purpose platform. Profit is not a purpose. A human relevant and meaningful purpose is a purpose. This isn’t a call for philanthropy. Instead, it is about anchoring the business in a mission reflected through how the entire organization operates that is centered on the consumer and the changing world around us.
  2. Insight research will be required to better understand the specific details of what your best users care about, what areas of sustainable performance matter most, what needs they prioritize on their life journey and what barriers stand in the way of their success and achievement.
  3. Operationalize your policies, sourcing, behaviors, standards and commitments to achieve alignment with your stated mission and your commitments to sustainability readiness.
  4. Reconsider the entire brand message map to optimize the focus on your consumers’ needs, their desires, how you can help and support them, ahead of a linear trip into feature/benefit selling. The product message can be woven into the narrative. But it should be crafted within the coaching and guidance paradigm rather than straight self-promotion.
  5. Bring social channel strategies into clear alignment with this strategic approach. Social is exactly that – an area for users to share experiences, ideas, concerns and success stories. Too often we find social treated as a monologue of outbound product selling rather than a community founded on conversation. Your social content platform should be built around engagement not just selling. This is harder to do than it appears.
  6. Looking ahead, recognize the significance and importance of cultural change and the related dynamics of consumer attitude shifts that will be reflected in behavior changes. Things are evolving at a faster pace now and staying on top of this is vital. There is no such thing as resting on your laurels.

Evolution. Change. Transformation. Speed and Humanity should all be held close.

What do you think 2022 will bring in changes and shifts to strategy? Use this link to share your views. We will publish the observations and comments in an upcoming post on 2022 marketing best practices, as envisioned by you, our valued readers.

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

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

Sustainability Readiness

Companies are over-estimating sustainability readiness

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

Analysis reveals aspirations may mask reality

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

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

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

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

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

Aspiration can skew reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two major culprits in aspirational assessment

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

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

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

Fly right to reap the benefits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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