Posts in Behavioral psychology

Ideas that catch fire

Digging Into the Psychology of Contagious Communication

October 3rd, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand marketing, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Marketing Strategy, media strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Digging Into the Psychology of Contagious Communication”

How to harness the science of social transmission

“People do not buy goods or services, they buy relations, stories and magic.”

                                                                                                                                           – Seth Godin

  • Today we will weigh in on vital tools and ideas that can vastly improve the outcome of your marketing investments.
  • For the very reason these tools and ideas access what we know about how people share information and recommendations with each other.

If there is one important, recurring theme in the guidance we provide at the Emerging Trends Report, it is our respect for the consumer we are working mightily to reach and engage. Too often, marketing activity is focused slavishly on firing up the latest social platform or digital tool.  Preoccupation with algorithms wrongly assumes simple deployment of the tech guarantees engagement. Nope. It’s just not happening.

So many benefits can be gleaned and extracted through greater understanding and appreciation of human behavior – and how these insights can be deployed for profound impact on consumer engagement and successful outreach results. Buckle up. Here we go.

The painful lesson…

  • Sorry, but most advertising just isn’t credible. If it walks, talks and behaves like traditional advertising – it is inherently untrustworthy to wary consumers.
  • If anything, ads are predictable in form and function, signaling it’s time to tune out, move on. Repetition doesn’t help, it just intensifies the annoying interruptions.
  • People increasingly refuse to tolerate advertising interruptions (hello streaming). Blatant brand self-promotion rarely resonates with consumers because the hero of the outreach is the brand focused on itself, not the consumer’s relevant journey.

It’s like that guy at the cocktail party who intrusively humble-brags about his career achievements. He cares little about his ‘audience’ beyond the attention he seeks. Meanwhile, we can’t wait to move on to something more interesting and maybe even useful.

What is actually sticky?

So much noise, so little time. How much of that messaging cacophony actually sticks with consumers?

Instead people are magically drawn to “remarkableness” – or what is:

Extraordinary

Novel

Exceptional

Unusual

Captivating,

Surprising

Helpful

Inspiring

When we build a marketing plan, we’re working to break the patterns of convention, disrupt the expected, violate the norm…why? When we’re able to get people to care, not only will they tune in to the message – they will share.

As marketers we work overtime to mint social currency around and within the product itself, how it is packaged and served up, the experiences we create and the stories we tell. This is ultimately showing appreciation for how and when people will transmit information to others.

Case in point: pressing the symbolism button

All purchases today are ultimately symbolic gestures; visible flags of what people want others to believe about their values, beliefs, priorities and status. How can we best employ symbols and markers of what consumers want others to see? What social currency flags can we help them visibly wave? To help them be…

In the know

Forward thinking

Sustainable

Successful

Caring

Informed

Resourceful

Exceptional

The desire for social resonance and approval is a fundamental human motivation. We can intentionally create ways for people to make themselves look good. We can help them feel like VIPs or insiders (exclusivity and scarcity). Everyone is a status seeker thus anything that elevates their position in front of others delivers social currency while creating talk value.

When people share extraordinary and entertaining stories it makes them appear to be extraordinary and entertaining.

The heart of it: emotion

Sustainability, global warming and climate threat represent compelling sources of competitive advantage and behavior change. Want people to do something about it? There’s a great temptation to point out how big the problem is and wallpaper messaging outreach with an unrelenting flow of statistics and factual evidence. When you want people to care about an issue, to weigh in, to do something, to share, emotion is going to be the primary lever.

Talk about how their children’s future, wellbeing, health and welfare could be impacted by runaway climate change. When you engage people in stories that hit home at the heart level – the most important human relationships we treasure for example, then we are engaging the subconscious side of the brain head on – the part of us that controls our actions.

Candidly, people don’t want to be told something. They want to be moved or entertained.

Observation delivers imitation

Social influence is enhanced when your product experience is more observable. Public visibility will boost talk value and sharing. Anything that is visible can engage the power of popularity and creates opportunities for imitation. If people can’t SEE what others are doing, they can’t imitate that behavior.

As marketers we’re looking for ways to take the product functionality or experience that is mostly unobservable and make it visible. That visibility will feed word of mouth. If it’s designed for show, it will likely grow.

Useful is powerful

People love to be helpful to others, to be a source of practical advice that improves experiences or makes life easier. When brands become enablers of guidance and coaching, another avenue is opened for social exchange. Simply put, people like to pass along useful tips, ideas and information to their peers. Creating a tellable tale around information of practical value is a sure path to contagious communication.

Look for ways to create news they can use.

Remarkable-ness will disrupt

If we hear the phrase “no frills airline” an image quickly begins to form of cramped seating, no food and the absence of any in-cabin entertainment. This bears out in reality as many “flying bus” experiences confirm the paradigm.

What happens when a discount carrier provides generous seating, good food options and in-flight entertainment – the shift immediately engages and disrupts the expectation. An opportunity to be remarkable is a game-changing moment that creates strong pathways to social exchange and transmission of extraordinary experiences.

How can you violate the standard rules of your category to deliver the exceptional and unexpected?

Activating the power of awe

When you see a breathtaking landscape, how do you feel? When you observe extraordinary human feats of daring, discovery or human kindness, it most likely moves you. Human inspiration is an endless treasure trove of share-able opportunities.

People desperately want to be part of something greater than themselves, to acquire purpose and value from being involved in a movement. The primary benefit of higher purpose marketing is the purpose itself.

Done with strategic thought and passion, we gain access to moments of wonder, excitement and strength. Awe is a powerful tool that triggers and motivates action. In short, engaging our sense of wonder is a sure path to share-able adventures.

Employing the magic of humanity

Frankly we could keep going because there are so many opportunities to take advantage of how people think and operate to jump over the stasis of self-centered, introspective marketing that fails to excite.

  • The common ground in this thinking is how we turn consumers into walking, talking billboards because they’re driven to share what they’ve experienced or learned. We don’t do business in a world of classic persuasion any longer. Our ability to engage people occurs in direct proportion to how relevant we can make our communication to them, how they think, how they operate and live.

When this happens, magic happens – and that’s what people want.

If this stimulates interest on how the approach might apply to your brand and business, use this link to start an informal conversation. No expectations other than a robust conversation about people, how they behave, and your goals.

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.

Brand trust is earned

User Endorsements Punch Harder on Brand Trust

July 8th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, Brand trust, Earned media, Emotional relevance, Influencers, Integrated Communications, resonance, Social media, Social proof, User Generated Content 0 comments on “User Endorsements Punch Harder on Brand Trust”

Paid influencers might be a problem

When a key marketing ‘best practices’ principle continues to be validated time and again, you start to regard it as fundamental and credible guidance. Once again, we’re seeing new evidence that consumers question the veracity of brand content created by paid influencers, while simultaneously embracing the comments and experiences of real-world users.

How can this be? It’s simply a matter of trust. Those motivated by a profit agenda are viewed as less objective and trustworthy than those without underlying financial self-interest. Career endorsers are often seen as paid shills or at least they have the appearance of same to consumers.

What is the litmus test for trusted communication?

Communication that comes from sources:

  1. Without any hidden or potentially compromising (paid hustler) agenda
  2. Whose behavior is informed by simple honesty and factual integrity
  3. From voices that put the concerns and needs of others ahead of their own self-interest

In a recent Marketing Daily report a new consumer study, “The State of User Generated Content” from EnTribe, reinforces the credibility gap between trusted sources and paid influencers.

  • 64% of consumers say they follow their preferred brands in social channels.
  • 63% of consumers complain about the frequent appearance of influencer content in brand social posts.
  • 85% of consumers believe influencers are inauthentic or unrelatable.
  • 85% say they prefer to see content from citizen users.
  • 84% believe user generated content drives brand trust.
  • 77% of shoppers say user content makes them more likely to buy.
  • 65% say user content makes them more loyal.

Never underestimate the power of trust

Let’s face it, consumers find it difficult to believe the claims and assertions made by brands. Why? Because true or not they believe companies will inevitably put their self-interest and profit motives ahead of their own welfare. In the consumer’s mind paid influencers suffer from a similar compromise of ‘never bite the hand that feeds you.’

Who do consumers believe or at least accept more readily as truthful and honest assessors of brand integrity and performance?

Each other – consumers will believe their peers before they embrace the brand’s own statements. That said, when trust breaks out it may also benefit the genuine acceptance levels of what a brand conveys on its own.

Editorial, non-paid media – say what you will about fake news, for the most part people continue to think that journalists are objective observers who attempt to unearth facts and evidence to confirm or deny what brands claim.

Credentialed experts with science, medical or academic backgrounds – individuals whose professional reputations are built on a hallowed ground of objective evaluation are perceived to have skin in the game and something important to lose should their recommendations turn out to be a fabrication.

Of course, just like restaurant reviews can be skewed because of a bad night in the kitchen, there is no such thing as unassailable, 100 percent bank-able opinions from any quarter. That said, the body of evidence weighed in sum will tip the scale one way or the other.

Why is trust so important to belief?

The always-on Internet and 24/7 reporting cycle have put every brand in every category inside a glass house. Anything than can be known, will be known – sooner or later. Too many trips into bad behavior land and trust fractures from half-truths or outright misinformation have caused a societal-level sense of caution and skepticism about what companies convey.

Here’s the antidote to trust fractures:

Actions speak louder than words. What a brand does – the actions it takes – can serve as evidence of its integrity and corporate soulfulness.

A brand’s devotion to a higher purpose and evidence of this belief system tend to project an aura of honesty and values-driven code about how the business is run and what the leadership team prioritizes.

Want to be trusted and believed? Then operate that way by putting the consumer’s welfare, wellbeing, priorities and needs ahead of company self-promotion interests. Selflessness is seen as an admirable trait in human behavior and when brands act this way (and are even willing to openly admit when they make a mistake) it helps cement consumer trust.

What do we know…?

  • That trust is the fundamental grist underneath any real relationship that works. It is true in life and in human relationships as much as it is in the give and take between people and the brands that matter to them.

Without trust you have an intractable problem. With embedded trust you have an opportunity to secure belief and engagement. Trust is never claimed. It is always earned. User generated content supplies the verification.

Trust is a strategic and organization-level consideration that should be baked into the foundation of any business and marketing plan. Should guidance on brand trust-building best practices be of help to you, and how to translate that into compelling communication, use this link to start an informal conversation about your questions.

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.

Breaking the chains of interruption marketing

Breaking Free from the Handcuffs of Intrusion Marketing

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

Embrace a new paradigm for successful brand storytelling…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The electronic fake-out

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

The essential truth about today’s consumer

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

In short people are ready to embrace:

Optimism over fear

Sacrifice over greed

Citizenship over consumption

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

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

Wholeness – moving beyond self-centeredness

Mastery – learning, competence and the struggle to improve

Justice – investing in, structuring a moral center

Depth – examining life and its complexities and possibilities

Simplicity – understanding the essence of things

Beauty – recognizing and experiencing aesthetic pleasure

Truth – the polar-opposite of falsehood

Uniqueness – mining creativity and non-conformity

Playfulness – celebrating joy and life experiences

Creating cinematic, powerful brand stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, this isn’t easy!

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

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

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

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

Emerging food tech and a drama of the ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human behavior and marketing

Mapping the Intersection of Psychology and Brand Communication

June 6th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, Brand trust, engagement, Social proof, storytelling 0 comments on “Mapping the Intersection of Psychology and Brand Communication”

Don’t overlook the human in front of you

We’re going to peel the onion on how people think and operate. We’ll show you how this impacts optimizing brand communications strategy to vastly improve engagement and results from your investments in consumer and stakeholder outreach.

But first, the state of the state

It seems inevitable, like a law of physics gone bad, that the majority of CPG and retail marketing is inwardly focused on the brand or product specifics. Communication strategies spin around self-promotion, and a belief that brands must “prove” their value with analytical arguments. As such, marketers are fixated on what has been invented, added or stirred in to the product to “deserve” the purchase or shop. This approach is founded on a view that the hard evidence, pushed even harder at the audience, makes the product or retailer more desirable.

But this is a mistake. Like lies by omission, this approach glosses over the profound truths we know about how people think and behave. Doesn’t it make more sense to design brand communication that resolves the inherent barriers to change people raise, rather than pushing proof points to an audience that begins each day with risk aversion sewn into their DNA?

Neophobia is everywhere

“Fear of anything new” lives in varying degrees with most people. We are, after all, creatures of habit for the very reason people abhor the discomfort of perceived risk in making bad decisions. Staying the course with the tried-and-true takes burning any mental calories out of the equation through default to the familiar.

However, for any brand or business, launching new products, services, ideas are fundamental to generating incremental growth. With resistance baked into human behavior change, it only makes sense to work backwards from how people think to acknowledge the human in front of us in our story.

The driving force behind decisions is…

People are on a constant scan of their surroundings for information that affirms their own point of view. We call this confirmation bias. People see what they expect to see and conclude what they expect to conclude. Try asking a Coke drinker to switch to Pepsi – not likely and a sampling will simply confirm their bias about taste expectations. The importance of insight research to better understand what people already believe can’t be overstated. Confirmation bias is foundational to the human condition and needs to be weighed on the path to optimal strategy.

How do marketers answer risk and bias?

Changing minds and hearts is an invitation to trust creation. Important to note here that trust is a feeling and not a rational experience. It emerges when we sense the brand is driven by values and beliefs, similar to our own, that transcend self-gain. This is the essence of our longing for reciprocity, honesty and integrity – qualities people resonate to and respect.

Specific considerations from human behavior insight come to play in the strategic plan.

Narrow your targeted consumer cohorts to those whose beliefs are closer to the desired opinion or viewpoint you are trying to secure. There is a temptation especially at a launch to go wide and attempt to appeal to everyone. That is a riskier approach. Better to identify the audience closest to your proposition, those most likely to embrace your offer because it is seen as a pain killer. A pain killer is a product your refined audience needs to have now, right now, rather than a nice to have maybe someday.

But what about those consumers who are further afield and more difficult to draw in? Here are three principles to consider when you have a steeper hill to climb.

  • Shorten/reduce the ask – how can you create a stepping-stone approach of a slower, steady path to change that comes at people in chunks and stages. Meatless Monday is a great example of modifying the ask. You don’t need to convert to a plant-based diet entirely, just one day a week opens the door to trial and experience without trying to force wholesale lifestyle change.
  • Switching the field – look for places where like-mindedness already exists, where your brand values and beliefs align. This “unsticking point” can help move your audience closer to you by riding the wave of shared view and aspiration. People are more comfortable with what is familiar to them.
  • Adoption psychology – how easy and frictionless can you make trial? How can you reduce the costs of trial? How do you remove any sense of risk in taking a bite-size swing at what’s on offer? Ease of returns maybe. Years ago, Zappos as an early player in e-commerce created free shipping and free returns as a path to making shoe purchases acceptable and desirable when customers couldn’t try a pair before buying. Now we take that free ship offer for granted, but in its day, that big move raised business results literally overnight.

Here are rules to observe in risk reduction:

Rule of Similarity

We will believe “people like me” before accepting the assertions and claims made by brands. The opportunities for engagement increase substantially when people are in communities of like-minded souls who share the same needs and concerns.

Curate your social channels to identify audiences most likely to resonate and share similar points of view with each other. This narrowcasting approach is more powerful than ‘all things to all people’.

Rule of Validation

The more risky the ask, the more verification will be required. The use of multiple outside third party, credible voices can help make your communication convincing and validating. We did this for a financial services company whose primary customers were banks – a conservative, risk averse audience if there ever was one. We created a video covering key issues of concern on the path to acceptance. We did this through candid, unscripted interviews with 10 existing banker customers from varying markets and business models. These executives affirmed through their own experiences what we wanted potential bank prospects to believe. The sheer number of voices, the similarity of backgrounds and values, the humanization and unscripted tone made the entire communication more credible, powerful. The outcome was astounding to quicky step bank decision makers beyond perceived risk and resistance.

Rule of Concentration

We often get asked, which is better – a heavy-up concentration of media activity over a smaller geographic area vs. a broader but lighter outreach over a larger distribution territory? The answer is concentration is always best to help confront the desired audience with multiple messages from multiple sources. This generates a bandwagon effect that suggests to the audience, “wow, this might be important” and thus worthy of further investigation. It may take longer to address a larger geographic launch this way, but it will also be more effective.

We often convey to clients that Emergent is in the brand storytelling business. That’s certainly true. But if we step back and look at the integration of strategy to story and what we know about behavior, it might be more accurate to say we’re in the risk removal business.

We utilize our knowledge of psychology and neuroscience to help create interest, change and trial by getting past the elaborate risk barriers every human manifests. We reduce risk by mining our client brands’ higher purpose and values alignment (trust) — while delivering credible evidence and authoritative guidance that gives consumers permission to buy.

If you would like to talk in greater detail about how risk aversion impacts your business, use this link to start an informal get-acquainted conversation.

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

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

Founders personify brand purpose

Is Your Brand’s Soul Strategy Your Sole Strategy?

May 11th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling 0 comments on “Is Your Brand’s Soul Strategy Your Sole Strategy?”

Without careful nurturing, the deeper meaning you started with will disappear

Truth is people care more about your *why* than they care about your brand’s how or what. While they aren’t necessarily enamored with your competitive specs and formulation wizardry, what they will resonate to is *why* you do it. Your purpose – your deeper effort to do something more meaningful – a mission that transcends commerce. These are the beliefs and values that draw people in, anchor their advocacy, and make them want to be members of your brand community rather than merely users.

Yet over and over again, we observe organizations failing to see the importance of these principles and in doing so, lose the magic that resonates and attracts people to the extraordinary promise that heralded the company’s genesis.

Your *Why* matters.

The why of every organization starts in the past, informed by the life experiences and aspirations of the founder(s) –people who were motivated to do something bigger than themselves. The foundational concept becomes the secret sauce that drives brands forward. It is, however, elusive, and can disappear over time if the cultural legacy and beliefs that lifted the organization to its initial success are lost. Future management teams may believe efficiency, cost control and improved processes constitute the levers of brand affinity and business growth. Not so.

Iconic brands are not immune to this almost inevitable and corrosive condition!

Charles Lubin, a Chicago baker, established the Kitchens of Sara Lee in 1949, naming it after his nine-year old daughter and launched his first successful product, a cream cheesecake. But it was a retailer in Texas who wanted to stock Sara Lee desserts that prompted him to reformulate so it could be successfully frozen and shipped long distances. Lubin invented the frozen baked goods category. He sparked innovations in production (foil pans) and flash freezing that fueled national distribution of his “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee” brand.

He retired from the business in 1968, then owned by Consolidated Foods (later renamed Sara Lee Corporation). As is often the case when the visionary moves on, if the deeper purpose, beliefs and meaning he brought with him are relegated to historical record, the heart of the enterprise’s belief system can get usurped by process, operations and balance sheet considerations. By the early 1990’s without nourishment of the Sara Lee brand soul, inevitable decline had set in. The parent company, now called Sara Lee Corporation, began to contemplate divesting its corporate namesake baked goods business. Tough to do.

The Wheatley Blair agency was retained on a rescue mission. Could we turn the business around? It would require radical moves, marketing finesse, a complete restage and especially, soul regeneration. Our strategy: unlike so many other food brands with made-up names, there really is a Sara Lee. Could we reinstall some of the magic and meaning by bringing her in to be the face and voice of the brand?

Soon we found ourselves sitting in Sara Lee’s upper east side apartment in Manhattan talking about her dad’s legacy and how much the business needed her help. Reluctantly she agreed to get involved and so we mapped a three-year strategy to revitalize the brand around her as spokesperson and personification of a new era at Sara Lee.

What happened next was truly remarkable. To launch a new line of baked goods with a lighter formulation, we created the first International Symposia on Dessert in Vienna, Austria – the world capital of dessert and pastry.

We flew 56 top North American food media to Vienna for three days of 24/7 dessert-centric experiences, seminars and tasting events. There, for the first time we introduced the world to Sara Lee the real, living human namesake. The media were smitten. The brand garnered more media attention than it had received in its entire history. This brought a refreshing injection of tangible humanity into a brand that had lost its anchor. Within a year the business started its upward trajectory and Sara Lee Corporation credited the strategy with turning the Sara Lee brand around at its annual shareholder meeting.

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?”

Steve Jobs understood this and saw it unfold in real time.

“Something happens to companies when they get to be a few billion dollars, they sort of turn into vanilla companies. They add a lot of layers of management. They get really into process rather than results, rather than products. Their soul goes away. And that’s the biggest thing that John Scully and myself will get measured on five years from now, six years … Were we able to grow into a $10 billion company that didn’t lose its soul?” – said Steve Jobs, circa 1984, in a Rolling Stone magazine interview.

Of course, Jobs was pushed out of his own company in 1985 and we know the Scully years were not necessarily a huge win for Apple. Until, the corporate “soul” in the form of Steve Jobs returned in 1997 to reinstall a refreshed ‘change the world’ vision and “Think Different” higher purpose. That purpose has remained with Tim Cook and the company continues to follow its inspiration and celebration of creativity and empowering individuals to change the world around them.

“I want to put a ding in the universe” – Steve Jobs

Apple doesn’t sell machines. Never has. Apple Macintosh was the first personal computer to offer a “graphical user interface” and mouse. Did anyone yearn for this tech? No. It was the point and click simplicity that elevated the experience. The story around enabling creative citizen communication and putting the power of publishing in the hands of any human was a dramatic departure from everything that came before it. The emotion-driven purpose that so resonated was: Empowering Creativity. Anyone’s creativity. Everyone’s creativity. No matter what the expression of that creativity was, you were now empowered to – borrowing from another – Just Do It.

Coffee culture and experience

Howard Schultz was struck by the coffee culture he observed in business trips through Italy. The sense of community and conversation that was part of the cultural vibe around the experience of enjoying elevated and refined coffee beverages. In its earliest days Starbucks was about bean religion and ingredient provenance stories for the vast improvement they brought over the current miserable state of coffee beverages sold in America.

He created the ‘third place’ as a personification of coffeehouse culture that turned Starbucks into a destination of enjoyment around subtle European sophistication cues. In those days coffee would be served in ceramic cups. People were encouraged to stay. It was a cultural immersion. There was deeper meaning, values and lore around coffee beverages, a veritable world tour of taste sensations (now taken for granted). When Schultz left the company some of its soul went with him. In his subsequent returns some of that magic came back with him trailing like the visible tail of a comet.

  • The biggest challenge any brand will face over time is how the organization continues to grow and prosper without diluting its soul. And if that happens, how to reacquire it by looking backwards, not forwards to the story and formative beliefs and values that drove the concept from day one.

Money is not a purpose, it is an outcome

Why is *why* so important?

Because it inspires trust. It reaches the heart. It is always heart over mind you know!

Nothing can be more important in the digital age when ‘anything that can be known, will be known,’ craters so many corporate and individual reputations. When the words used to describe what a company does are unrelated to price, quality, services and features, you have a clear indicator that the *why* has blossomed.

When Schultz departed Starbucks and subsequent management focused on what and how over why, the soul eroded and commoditization challenges took root.

Here is the essence of it…

When a brand clearly, resolutely communicates its *why* – its beliefs and values – consumers believe what the organization believes. People will go to great lengths to include brands with a soul in their lives. Not because of any analytical evaluation of product features, but because people hold up those brand values and beliefs as markers and signals of who they are, what they care about. Apple is a flag for creative expression. Starbucks was a statement of sophistication. Costco is not a store, it is a treasure hunt.

People form communities to be around others with shared values and aspirations. Companies can help foster those communities when the story they tell is grounded in higher purpose rather than product slogans, features and benefits.

When a company doesn’t offer anything beyond rational, analytical arguments about its product, it is attempting to force less than inspiring decisions on a purchase – and commoditizing itself in the process. The only games left to play at that point are attempts at manipulation through conventional interruption media and incentives.

  • People want to belong to something bigger than themselves. Can you provide that? People aren’t buying what you do, they are buying why you do it.

If you need help and guidance in reasserting your why, or creating the higher purpose for your brand, use this link to start a conversation with a team that understands how to elevate purpose as core strategy and a business anchoring system.

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

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

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.

Archives

Categories