Defining the new path to brand relevance and attraction
You can’t afford marketing that fails to connect. Too often brands inadvertently embed their communication with disconnects because the story is constructed upside down. It’s rowing against the current of behavioral science that informs us about what draws people in, or conversely, repels them.
Every food, beverage and lifestyle marketer, every day, needs their outreach activity to engage and endear consumers to their respective brand. We know the ultimate goal for any business is to get and keep a customer, so strategic communication is job one. With consumers in full control to accept or bypass brand messaging intended for their eyes and ears, engagement remains elusive and, thus, is more precious to your business than gold.
What is the secret to message resonance?
- What are the rules governing how relationships and ultimately brand advocacy are created? We will answer these key business-building questions soon in this story. First, we need to examine the failure to engage because too many brands are missing the mark and don’t realize it.
Head-over-heart fact-based storytelling is a fast track to “strike three, you’re out!”
Human beings have a remarkable ability to embrace the experiences and stories of their contemporaries. People care about other people, more so than ‘caring’ about a specific product feature. Yet brands and businesses are too often pre-occupied with telling their story of better technology and related formula benefits, believing this is the information that will attract an audience and build sales.
To understand this, we should explore what the brand’s role is in users’ lives. Every day of every week of every year in the consumer’s life, people operate as the heroes of their own life story. Unfortunately, the vast majority of brand communication places the product at the center of the story arc, competing with consumers for the coveted hero role. The consumer recognizes their rightful role in the story has been hijacked by the brand, and they move on trying to find a respectful guide who will help them on their path to a better and more fulfilling life.
- Yes, the brand’s role is expert guide and coach. The brand relationship must be built on a foundation of reciprocity, activated by the brand’s ability to contribute to the users’ efforts to overcome obstacles and achieve goals on their journey.
Analytical arguments of “25% faster” or “15% more protein” do not, cannot, form the basis of engaging brand storytelling. To draw consumers close, emotion is required, and relevance, based on a holistic understanding of the customer’s aspirations, desires, concerns and needs, is necessary.
Emotion captures attention
Awhile back we represented the leading pet food brand in the raw food category. They made high quality kibble and wet foods but the raw segment of their product line was seen as the most nutritionally desirable. As we spent time getting closer to their best raw food users, we uncovered amazing stories of transformation and change for pets who had health issues and behavioral challenges. Once introduced to the nutritional density of a raw food diet, these pets’ lives were dramatically altered for the better.
We created video vignettes of these testimonials, featuring non-scripted interviews and a short documentary-style approach to tell their transformation stories. The tears literally flowed as pet parents described the difficulties their furry family members faced, and what happened when a dietary change helped reverse health problems and adjusted the trajectory of their pet’s life.
- No amount of communication about quality food ingredients, proprietary recipes, or high protein levels would come within a country mile of creating a more compelling and powerful proposition for this brand.
Further evidence of this same phenomenon came to life in a different way years earlier when I led the Friskies pet food account while at Ogilvy & Mather in Los Angeles. We created a novel campaign aptly titled: the Search for the Friskiest Cat in America. Using a variety of integrated communications and package graphic tools, we moved the news to cat owners about the opportunity for their feline to win $10,000, a trip to Hollywood for a celebrity judged final event and a coveted place on the cover of the annual Friskies cat calendar.
The idea caught fire. Consumer entries showcased oil paintings of a frisky moment, videos, poems, even screen plays. The stories shared by people about the animals they loved were nothing short of amazing; emotion-packed, authentic, fun and entertaining. By the way, the brand went to the number one category share position for the first time in 20 years.
What did we learn? We tapped a vein of emotional relevance as thousands and thousands of people shared their stories of wacky cat behavior and why their pet deserved the “friskiest” accolade. We also learned how incredibly important these bonds and relationships were to people, as seen by the lengths people would go to demonstrate it.
The tragic human experience writ large
Perhaps the most powerful story we’ve ever encountered came from a mother who had lost her teenage daughter to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in their home. It served as powerful motivation to families to protect themselves and their loved ones from this invisible and dangerous household hazard. No amount of logical, fact-based communication about the CO threat and its presence in the home would come anywhere near the heart-breaking loss this family experienced. They felt a calling to share their story when they understood what a pervasive problem it is in homes and that 90% of American families weren’t aware of it.
The family championed our client’s product, the world’s first household CO detector, as the instrument to help other families avoid their fate. Human beings work very hard to prevent loss or risk of injury when they know what the threat looks like and what the outcomes can be at a human level. It was the mother’s personal story, grieving for the accidental loss of her daughter that made it real and credible. Her call to action: “If there had been a carbon monoxide alarm in our home, this could have been avoided. Don’t say it won’t happen to you.” People listened and thousands of lives were saved as a result.
The heroes of these stories are people and their experiences. Not recipes, or formulations or ingredient wizardry. In each instance the brand was a guide or coach to help the consumer along their path. This is what draws people closer.
Emotional resonance comes in different flavors
- Home cooks who are spurred by creativity and food adventure experiences in the kitchen or backyard.
- Amateur athletes and fitness buffs who search for inspiration and guidance on their quest for improvement and self-fulfillment.
- People whose health and wellbeing are transformed by changes to their lifestyle and mental attitude through improved eating/drinking and exercise regimens.
- Outdoor adventure enthusiasts who are drawn to the dramatic stories of shared lifestyle experiences from people their mountaintop passions.
- The growing chorus of people whose higher purpose and mission is to improve the world around them, addressing racism, hunger, poverty, social injustice and climate change.
- Every product category, viewed through the right strategic lens, can secure this sweet spot of emotional relevance.
It may seem counterintuitive to focus on the consumer’s journey and need more so than the product technology. However, it is a proportional measurement of how fully a brand becomes immersed in this deeper meaning and then operates as a partner to improve the consumer’s life, that impacts the ability to create and sustain an authentic relationship.
Your four-step plan to brand engagement and growth:
- Make the research and study of your consumer’s lifestyle, ambitions, worries, interests and experiences a top priority. To know them is to love them.
- Build a strategic platform around your company’s higher purpose and mission that bears relevance to what consumer’s care most about. Your brand’s goal is to improve their lives.
- Construct messaging, content and invite users to participate with their own stories that bring your purpose and mission to life. People want to be part of something that’s greater than themselves.
- Listen and improve. The more you know about them and their needs, the more powerful this dynamic relationship becomes.
Emergent has created a proprietary process called Brand Sustainability Analysis to help clients determine or refine their unique higher purpose and true north. If it’s time for a fresh perspective and help on defining your path to sustainable growth, click here to start a conversation.
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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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.