Posts in Brand Beliefs

Path to Purchase is Evolving

Your Customer’s Path to Purchase is Changing – Are You?

December 12th, 2023 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, Brand Beliefs, Brand differentiation, brand strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Your Customer’s Path to Purchase is Changing – Are You?”

Now more than ever, brand storytelling is the link to engagement

It is our mission at Emergent to continuously study the evolving dynamics of influence on the consumer journey to purchase. No surprise, we are doing business in revolutionary times. To wit, advances in AI technology will permanently alter the future of brand communication and how consumers operate when buying. Meantime, another behavior shift has arrived ahead of the trust challenges AI will inevitably create. Below we bring you the details.

Since the dawn of modern retail shopping, people have invariably looked for guidance from trusted sources as they seek to make what they believe to be less risky purchase decisions (people always work to avoid a bad decision/experience).

Below are two more recent areas of influence on consumer behavior. Then ahead we see a third pathway that is currently dialing up.

  1. 10 years ago, we started looking to credible third parties

We trusted those perceived to be credentialed experts from academic, scientific and reputational influence backgrounds who brought their educated assessment of what constitutes the state of the art in any given category.

2. Five years ago, this evolved to a focus on belief in peers

With digital apps came crowd sourcing and social community “proof” at our fingertips. We experience this through sites such as Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisors, Goodreads, TikTok, LinkedIn and Instagram that aggregate the views and experiences of our peers. We trust fellow citizens to verify and validate the assertions and claims made by brands.

3. Next, public trust failures have led consumers to turn inward for guidance

We are on the cusp of another evolution in buying behavior. People are looking inside themselves – relying on their intuition, inner wisdom and ‘gut feel’ about brands and businesses. This felt-to-be-true knowledge springs from an implicit understanding that originates in the subconscious. In essence, consumers land on a sense of what feels right to them. They trust these feelings to provide guidance and confidence for their decisions. Pundits in the brand strategy world are referring to this new school of thinking as Noetic Intelligence.

What does this mean for brands when consumers turn to intuition for trusted guidance? Your response should be to refocus on what people are feeling in the presence of your brand. Translating that into best practices means dialing up stories that amplify values, beliefs, deeper meaning and emotion to hit the right subliminal chords.

Storytelling is the most potent, engaging, strategically-differentiating form of communication available to businesses and brands.

By definition, this is a unique and more emotive approach focused on a different and more lifestyle relevant set of topics than pushing product features, benefits or reciting factoids and reports to support a new technology or innovation achievement. Specifically:

  • What is your brand higher purpose?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What is your opinion on substantive issues impacting the world around us?
  • How are you enabling a path for consumers to act upon their beliefs and values?
  • What lies within the heart and soul of your brand’s value system?

Stories help people get involved with your brand and don’t present themselves like overt selling. Instead, storytelling cultivates interest and engagement, fueled by an increasingly easy ability to publish and distribute through social channels and other content platforms as narratives, videos and podcasts.

Stories can help build an emotional connection between brands and users, by enabling the humanization of brand conversations. This is how you secure rapt consumer attention.

  • When I started in this business, we often bemoaned the challenges of controlling messages and lamented that our outreach existed only within media platforms owned and managed by third parties. Today brands can operate independently as publishers AND media channels. Yet some brands are hesitant to fully leverage this incredible controlled messaging capability to greatest effect.

All too often, brands remain tethered to product presentations rather than the context and belief afforded by stories. A pet food brand can self-promote its ingredient quality, nutritional philosophy, commitment to ethical sourcing and the like. Or the brand can bring forward stories of transformational change and impact their diets have on beloved pets whose lives were improved through better nutrition and the wellbeing that bestows. This blends with and imprints the positive lifestyle associations people desire with their furry family members.

Which is more compelling? The story of how a pet’s life has transformed from consuming a new diet. Or waxing on about nutritional panel ingredient integrity and high sourcing standards? It’s going to be the first approach every time. Human beings love stories. So why don’t we see more of it more often in marketing?

During the persuasion era of brand marketing, interruption-style media was deployed to circulate product feature communication constructed around entertainment or humor to bait the attention of its intended audience. Some of this marketing manipulation thinking still lingers today, despite our knowing consumers have the ability to avoid nearly all of it.

The story telling era has emerged to replace interruption and manipulation

Some of best examples of powerful storytelling can be found in books and movies that deftly use conflict, tension, struggle, and lead character redemption, ultimately leading to a favorable outcome as a blueprint for successful engagement. Yet many brands struggle with storytelling because it’s not a direct product hard sell. As if hard selling will continue as a bankable path to consumer engagement anyway?

Brand storytelling is at its most dynamic state when integrating:

Culture –

Culture governs shifts in preference, social relevance, priorities, meaning and even language. It is influential to behavior and so should be respected as a conditioning and context agent for brand stories.

Psychology –

Neuroscience proves how we work incessantly to avoid perceived risks. Our subconscious is the ruler over decisions and actions and so we use archetype development to help inform the tone, manner and character of brand messaging that resonates.

Emotion –

Humans are feeling creatures who think. We are not analytical, fact-driven decision-making machines. Emotion sits at the front door of how we behave and influences our opinions and judgments. It is fundamental to our actions and the decisions we make. It’s the emotional grist which makes the communication memorable by the way.

Today this approach manifests in a refined set of outbound tools including:

Content streams

Social communities

Installations and pop-ups

Real world and retail experiences

If you want to know more, ask questions or discuss Noetic Intelligence and its application to your business, 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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Brand differentiation is better than being better

Leveraging “Better” is a Trap

November 15th, 2023 Posted by brand advocacy, Brand Beliefs, Brand differentiation, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Differentiation, Insight 0 comments on “Leveraging “Better” is a Trap”

Don’t play in someone else’s sandbox

What we’re about to discuss here is vital to brand marketing best practices and sustainable business results.

Most of the time brands and businesses focus their marketing on being better than X. When you are better than X your brand identity is linked to a competing brand. This is a trap. Being better is actually worse. Being different is better than better. Why? Because superior products often lose to brands that dare to be different.

When better silently runs the show, your storytelling is always focused on features and benefits. Some may even strive to be the best – which is really “better” dressed in a suit. Example of a “better” expression: “more” is a slippery slope to feature selling. More control. More perks. More of magic ingredient X. You’ll find hidden under every feature benefit message there is a “better” snare.

  • It’s a misguided, if all too common, principle that inevitably focuses the conversation on competitive benchmarks and comparisons. It is an endless cycle that leaves real consumer traction and engagement unattended – because the story always makes the brand the hero and not the consumer.

Better brands are never about product features and benefits, and consumers no longer buy them anyway. That’s table stakes. Instead, people are attracted to deeper meaning, aligned values, higher purpose and are magnetically drawn to different. Your brand should offer a point of view, express opinions and bring a vision of the future.

Rule number one: in compelling brand storytelling the consumer must always be the hero of your narrative. Your brand should avoid competing with the consumer for the hero role. Every consumer, every day wakes up believing they are the hero of their life journey. Your brand’s proper messaging role is as coach, guide and empathetic enabler of their journey.

Stronger brands always focus on being unique, not better

Strategic brands say and do things differently

They hew a unique tone

They often carve a controversial path

They see the future through a different lens

They operate with a belief system

The belief is the benefit

Great brands are always founded on beliefs

You may think that users care about better. However, you just haven’t given them something greater to believe in. Shifting the story spotlight takes the glow off of your competitor – who incidentally really doesn’t matter to your future prospects and growth.

It isn’t easy to be different. It takes incredible discipline and the support of your leadership team not to fall back into feature/benefit selling. Strategic strength springs from a well-defined understanding of who you are as a brand and company, and what you want to become over time.

Following the path to different

Here are some examples of how you can embrace different in your strategic game plan.

1. Create a new category

Historically and traditionally skincare and make-up brands conveyed that beauty is always applied. It exists on the exterior as an aspirational expression of status seeking and attraction. More enlightened brands have arrived to flip the script by attaching a broader vision of what beauty is and how it manifests. Instead, real beauty comes from within.

Beauty evolves as a coalescing of better health, fitness, spiritual growth and is inclusive of different body types, ages and lifestyles. The brand voice morphs to focus on wellbeing, happiness and growth rather than the singular application of a product. This different view authors a unique voice that carries added relevance and value to its audience of believers in a more validating life view.

Category creation is the ultimate move to inject different into brand strategy and positioning.

2. Move from product utility to lifestyle association

All too often product communication is devoted to specific technologies, formulation superiority and benefits of same. The product and brand are always the authoritative voice. Instead, moving to a lifestyle brand strategy enables personal authority. Great lifestyle brands insert themselves into important moments and experiences sought after by users. These are often situations and memories that echo the brand’s deep belief system – it’s “why” rather than what or how.

Yeti is an iconic example of a brand enrobing itself in a cloak of lifestyle experiences that celebrate outdoor adventures and enable the freedom of the soul in nature. Yeti is not selling coolers and tumblers. It’s singular devotion to breathing life into the emotional experiences of lifestyle association endears itself to its audience of evangelists and ambassadors. Yeti’s deeper meaning separates and elevates it from other brands who offer similar products.

3. Change the story focus

Most brands talk up themselves incessantly. It’s always about who we are and what we do. There is self-reverence and promotion. All about me. Instead of revealing yourself to the customer, how about revealing the customer to themselves. Stop expressing who you are and start talking about the customer – their aspirations, interests and needs.

Most hotel brands focus on their properties to extol design, amenities, services, architecture and location. Here are our features. Frankly the entire conversation is nearly generic brand to brand and separated mostly by price class.

Along comes Airbnb to completely violate the rules and tropes of travel brand communication. Rather than say look at who we are, they flip the lens around to say I see who you are. It comes from a different view of what travel is and how it can be experienced. Belong Anywhere is a unique concept that makes the customer and user experience paramount. The brand becomes an enabler of a unique experience – a coach and guide on a different and more human way to experience travel and destinations.

4. Change the reality

Disruption can be a useful tool when it reorients what people take for granted. The goal is to help people find and accept a new reality. Everything we thought we knew about __________ is wrong. This is how to do it (understand it) right.

The emergence of sustainability strategies and a new understanding of the role our food system plays in climate change is a reality-changing condition. Most people don’t think of food as a contributor to global warming. A brand that steps fully into conscious consumption and the commitment to improving sustainability bona fides creates a game changing story for consumers – and potentially a transformational view of how food should be created.

Similarly, what we think we know about health, wellness and aging is ripe for a makeover. Creating a new reality is a road to difference, uniqueness and sought-after guidance. The new paradigm of belief positions your brand as arbiter of a new way of thinking, doing and believing.

Different is the Holy Grail, let’s look for it!

It is time to back away from being better or best to refocus your marketing and messaging energy on radical differentiation. Best practices in this area inevitably leads to refinement of brand belief systems and adding deeper meaning to who and what you are as a brand and business. Collectively, if you can do it and stick to it, your brand will benefit from a new era of transcendence and value to users who come to you for better and more lasting reasons than a product feature.

If this discussion stirs some thinking and questions in your mind, and you’d like to get those ideas on the table to ponder with some like-minded thinkers, let us know. We’d love to think with you about how this thinking can be applied to your brand and business. Here’s a link to start an informal conversation.

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

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

Brand tug-of-war on sustainability performance

Sustainability – You’re In Or You’re Out

August 24th, 2023 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, Brand Beliefs, brand messaging, brand strategy, Carbon footprint, Climate Change, climate culture, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Sustainability 0 comments on “Sustainability – You’re In Or You’re Out”

Confronting the immutable truths ahead

This report is ultimately a call for renewal of purpose and commitment to sustainability policies, principles and behaviors that consumers are increasingly demanding. It is also a roadmap for alternative food technologies to regain momentum after a period of honest reassessment on the fundamentals of taste, nutritional composition, price and brand sustainability narrative.

Stay tuned for more guidance – but first a look at the current conflagration.

Two steps forward. One step back.

At the moment we are in the midst of a tug of war on sustainability commitments and performance. Despite mounting evidence of environmental trouble, some organizations over inflate their progress (greenwashing), while others green-hush by downplaying practices or abandoning them all together.

Progressive large food industry organizations like ADM and PepsiCo continue to lead the charge, working to secure improvements at the farm level. Others such as McDonald’s, who earlier addressed their ESG commitments head on have receded, horns pulling inward. Further some brands tempt a flame out on the path to redemption by intentionally hiding the ESG candle of achievement, preferring to operate in the dim shadows away from public or media attention.

We inquire: what’s going on here

We are confronted daily with the epic impacts of climate change. The situation is worsening. Evidence is all around us that carbon emissions and the resulting planet warming outcome is playing havoc with the balance of nature. Yet political considerations remain powerful deterrents to some organizations, apparently afraid of special interest criticism or concerned their current actions will be deemed subpar by climate watchdogs.

The fossil fuel industry tries to preserve the status quo by casting doubt on the efficacy of climate science. Some political groups snarl over “woke” capitalism even as our global “Rome” burns around us as violins play Emperor Nero style.

In a recent Fast Company article about current disinformation tactics taking aim at the plant-based meat industry, Sara Aniano, an analyst at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, was quoted stating, “Anything that strays from what’s deemed natural, primal, or masculine is automatically deemed dangerous. Innovative food products are seen as a dystopian consequence of leftist politics.”

Yet we know this July was officially the hottest on record for planet earth.

Our food system already represents nearly 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation systems combined. Increasingly, people believe companies have an obligation to address and mitigate System 3 (GHG) emissions now rather than wait for any future regulatory mandate. Moreover, there are only 7 more harvests on the run-up to 2030 as we face the prospect of irreversible climate change impacts if emission reductions aren’t realized.

Meanwhile “fake it ‘til you make it” greenwashing gets harder to pull off as deep knowledge about credible sustainability best practices becomes more pervasive among media and consumers. No matter what, the in-parallel denier criticisms are getting more difficult to defend in the midst of real-world crisis after crisis related to climate change impacts that manifest in floods, droughts, hot oceans and wildfires. The reality of climate turmoil is at humanity’s proverbial front door now.

What comes first: the sustainability chicken or the egg?

Stated another way which must come first, actions taken by brands and business to mitigate environmental impacts? Or second, the universal acceptance of these remedies as normal, practical, required and sought after by every conceivable audience and constituency a business might encounter?

  • Can you be a responsible sustainability transition plan implementer, and also present your organization publicly as a neutral Switzerland on the climate policy-making front?

No.

“One of the most important and challenging missions that I think one company could try to do, which is basically to replace animal farming as the primary source of protein production for humanity, is very much the reason why we started the company,” said Andre Menzes, CEO of alt. chicken protein company, Tindle Foods.

Despite Tindle’s enviable progress, why the current backslide for plant-based meat?

The media flourish over “plant-based meat for meat lovers” saw the Impossible and Beyond Meat businesses rapidly accelerate; both brands hoping to jump the normal new category creation arc and leap instantly into mainstream acceptance. This required attracting consumers who are more price sensitive, more demanding on taste and less “environmental issues” motivated at a time when inflation was running up the prices of groceries right and left.

Weaknesses in the brand story around the reality of “healthier” (sodium?) left the door open to  “highly processed” attacks that stole precedence over the earlier perceptions of meat-like eating experience. Hype machinery ground to halt when declining sales performance tarnished the golden meat-from-plants goose. Revenue for Beyond Meat plunged 30.5% in the second quarter this year, prompting CEO Ethan Brown to call (finally!!) for more education on their better-for-you improvements and sustainability bona fides.

So is plant-based a fading fad? Absolutely not. This is a blip as brands optimize and improve taste, the ultimate decider on marketplace traction alongside input cost management to finally reach pricing parity.

  • Plant-based must win more fans.
  • Precision fermentation deserves its protein game-changing shot.
  • Cultivated meat will earn its time in the shining retail sun.

Why? We simply can’t continue to endlessly add more animals as the primary source of protein in our diets. Animal meat on the menu isn’t going away. However, the composition of our dietary decisions and choices should adjust. Improvements from new protein technologies that come at a fraction of the environmental impacts of conventional food creation deserve our support.

Still, it’s a noisy fickle environment right now…

Why are companies afraid to plant their sustainability flag in the sand?

Escalating impacts surround the planet begging for mitigation attention.

Consumers increasingly demand action from business to solve the sustainability crisis.

Plant-based takes a step back amid criticism of its formula composition bona fides.

(Heavy sigh)

Landing on the side of the angels

  • What is the essential truth here? For one, our food system is an actor in the carbon emissions build-up. The impact of global warming is escalating, and you can see the tipping point on the horizon. Food technologies that answer the crisis with a fraction of conventional food system carbon impacts are coming but desperately need more investment to close the last mile to commercialization.
  • Sustainability performance matters. Science-based LCA level analysis of carbon footprints should be happening everywhere because you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are. Boulder, CO based Meati, with its novel mycelium-based meat products, is already in retail distribution with an eye-opener on replicating the eating experience of muscle meat cuts of chicken and beef. Their story is a sustainable solution.
  • Brands that look to help address the food and beverage industry’s carbon footprint are operating on the side of the angels and should do so fearlessly knowing the consumer is going on the journey with them. We have little time to solve the industry’s climate impacts so special interests should put down the quill of complaint and take up the mantle of participating in advancing change, not resisting it.

Guidance in the months ahead

  • Taste and price optimization are job one. It’s table stakes for growth.
  • Investments in Sustainability education for consumers and stakeholders should get more energy and funding, right now.
  • We have ample data and evidence that sustainability readiness commitments backed with consumer-facing outreach to inform stakeholders of this progress is a recipe for balance sheet benefits and marketplace competitive advantage.

Can we climb back on the horse of wisdom knowing these shifts are vital to keeping our planet safe, and to nourishing people affordably in the future?

Sustainability isn’t a hassle, it’s a business-building opportunity if we play our collective cards right.

Your brand can make a difference. Yes, sound strategy is needed. Linking sustainability expertise with marketing know-how is a loop that must be closed to gain business benefits from climate-responsible performance.

  • Let’s renew our vows at the altar of sustainable best practices. Time is not on our side, and we have policy ground to cover in a relatively short span of time.

Can we agree change is needed and desirable? We have a responsibility here to protect the future for our families and many others coming in the decades ahead. We have designed the recipe for success. We need to implement and keep at it as we move from friction around the birth of new ideas to transformation while new behaviors take root.

If you believe further guidance and fresh thinking on the path to sustainability performance excellence is in order, use this link to ask questions or start an informal conversation. We’re here to help.

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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Emergent analysis of what happens when brands fail to keep their beliefs and mission

What Happens When You Lose Your “Why”

August 10th, 2023 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, Brand Beliefs, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, engagement 0 comments on “What Happens When You Lose Your “Why””

Reclaiming higher purpose renews brand energy

Most brands with a strong higher purpose (a refined “why” that informs behaviors and decision making) got that way because the founder(s) injected beliefs from their own sense of mission.

Staying true to the founder’s core purpose/vision and retaining the brand’s deeper meaning over time can be challenging. If higher purpose is intentionally woven into the fabric of how the organization operates, the belief system can be steadfast generationally. If the mission is largely a reflection of the leader’s ethos and the company experiences regime change, the “why” can disappear in the hands of executives who manage most often for profit and loss priorities rather than refueling the company/brand belief system.

  • Apple lost its way when Steve Jobs was forced out in 1985. The company suffered as a result. When he returned in 1997 the higher purpose roared back. Business boomed.
  • Starbucks began with religion around changing the coffee experience, from better beans to establishing the Italian espresso beverage traditions in its unique “3rd Place” setting. When Howard Schultz left, the “why” went with him and subsequent leadership focused on operational efficiencies and expansion. Business declined until Schultz returned.

“Why” is influential to how a brand is built and sustains – providing a true north that transcends changing conditions and cultural shifts over time by securing a devoted community of true believers. It is fundamental to how brands engage successfully with core customers. It flies in the opposite direction from commoditization pressures and an unproductive focus on the competition.

  • Nonetheless “why” can be left behind if new leadership isn’t entrenched with the same point of view as the founders.

Our brush with half-baked “why” – A mini case study on reclaiming purpose

In 1949, Chicagoan Charles Lubin was trying to figure out how to send his epiphanous cheesecakes to a man in Texas enamored with his sweet, dense creations. But cheesecakes (and baked goods like them) generally didn’t travel well; thus, why the bakery industry of the era primarily consisted of smaller businesses servicing a local trading area.

Lubin began experimenting and later innovated a new brand at retail through his pioneering of flash freezing tech – a process to preserve the taste, texture and eating experience of his baked delights. As a result, a new category was established through his single-minded mission to make high quality baked goods available to a much wider audience. Reinventing the baked goods business to create widespread access was his “why.”

Lubin’s innovation was personified by creating the iconic Sara Lee brand – named after his nine-year old daughter, who for most of her life would remain hidden in the background. He was wildly successful and eventually sold his company to Consolidated Foods. The corporation renamed itself after the bakery division (Sara Lee Corporation) even though it was largely a meat products business. After the sale, Lubin eventually retired and a series of CPG experienced leadership teams came in to run the company, expanding distribution into foodservice and adding new categories to spur growth. But along the way Sara Lee lost its why.

The company was focused on volume and balance sheet considerations, not the embedded love affair with bakery creations that touch people’s lives. With a diluted soul, the business resorted to price promotions and other commoditizing behaviors to keep the volume numbers going.

As we’ve seen before when the “why” dissipates or disappears all together, the energy underneath the business often goes with it. Sara Lee lost relevance as the focus moved from consumers to chasing the competition. Performance inevitably flagged and the parent company started to consider if it was possible to divest the Sara Lee baked goods division even though their corporate identity was tied to it. Tough to do.

In a last ditch effort to turn the bakery ship around, we were retained on a mission to restage Sara Lee Bakery and recapture the qualities and meaning Charles Lubin had originally brought with him. We needed to break with the most recent past in a big way and author a new story for the future.

  • How do you quickly, decisively disrupt perceptions?  You do something over-the-top that forces consumer reassessment. You create a new story and put substance underneath it. It was time to swing for the fences.

Solution: Sara Lee’s First International Symposia on Dessert

Go big or go home. We sat down with Sara Lee, the actual person, and after many hours of conversation about our plans to rescue the business her father had started, Sara agreed to become a spokesperson for the brand named after her. To properly showcase her debut, we decided to create an event to showcase a new era at Sara Lee, complete with an updated product line. It would be done specifically for the top North American food media so the story could be told as widely as possible in a credible setting.

We decided to create a symposium on dessert – in the dessert capitol of the world, Vienna, Austria – the birthplace of sweet bakery creations and traditions beginning in the 18th century. We also knew that a media event staged in Vienna was likely to be enthusiastically attended, and over three days we would have the full and undivided attention of our media audience 24 hours a day. It would be an extraordinary opportunity to exercise great influence, a ‘must-do’ if we were going to change the paradigm of what people think Sara Lee is.

Working with Austrian Airlines, the Austrian Economic Council and the Vienna Tourism Board, we were able to secure airline seats for 56 journalists for a song, hotel rooms at the famous Hotel Imperial at a rate more like Motel Six and free access to the famed palaces that made Vienna the cultural heartbeat of the world during the time of Mozart.

We recruited the top seven pastry chefs of Vienna to help reimagine new desserts using Sara Lee products as a base, to enchant and inspire the food media luminaries who would attend. We developed a comprehensive itinerary of educational events and experiences designed to provide so many varying story angles that any media decision maker would feel they could carve their own unique narrative around the experience.

  • We brought a in a food historian who charted the emergence of sweet baked goods from the Roman Empire to modern day.
  • We created a section on the psychology of eating dessert revealing the cultural issues at work between American sensibilities and European attitudes on indulgence.
  • We prepared a hands-on cooking experience for all 56 media, dividing them into teams to work alongside Viennese pastry experts each challenged to work with a specific Sara Lee product.
  • We brought the media to the oldest operating bakery in the world, opened in 1560, to hear a presentation on the history of chocolate.

The most important facet of all though was on the opening night where the editors gathered for a special reveal – they would be meeting the real Sara Lee and Charlie Lubin’s wife for the first time. This event, fit for royalty, was staged in a palace next door to The Hofburg, the Imperial seat of the Hapsburg dynasty. The editors were to experience a curated menu based on a 18th century royal banquet, dining on china from the royal house. Ahead of a presentation that would whisk them forward to the modern era of baked goods and the new Sara Lee brand.

After dinner a video presentation chronicled  the history of dessert – a retrospective on the birth of sweet baking traditions and its evolution over time, a way for the brand to lock in its ‘knowledge broker’ cred on bakery expertise. At the conclusion of the video the room went dark and then Sara Lee was introduced to an awestruck crowd of food journalists (there really is a Sara Lee). You could feel the electricity when Sara walked into the room. Sara spoke of her father’s legacy, mission, values and unveiled the new product line for the editors, inviting them to join a dessert fantasy experience.

  • Sara Lee’s top chefs created a dessert fantasy in the adjoining gold-gilt ballroom where Viennese pastry masterpieces were arranged near and around new desserts made with Sara Lee products. The editors were challenged to determine which was which. To a one, they couldn’t tell the difference. Perceptions were changed.

For three days it was around the clock substance interlaced with dazzle, including a specially staged concert with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra at another palace in an unusual oval shaped hall where Mozart conducted his first concert when he was six years old.

From this hosted media experience, Sara Lee Bakery dined for more than a year on story after story after story about the events and tastes in Vienna. The media showcase for new products was unprecedented for Sara Lee. A reacquiring of the brand’s “why” sat at the center of the entire venture and with it a departure from the price oriented self-promotion that had been going on for years before.

  • The business results were gratifying and the project was credited at Sara Lee Corporation’s annual shareholders meeting as the reason for significant improvement in the bakery division’s results.

The most important aspect of this campaign was its ability to reframe the Sara Lee brand and product experience in a relevant and resonant way. Sara went on to be the centerpiece of  brand communication for three more years before she ’retired’ to her former and much quieter life with her family.

The lesson: when the “why” is diluted, the business resorts to manipulations to create a reason to buy, and these tactics don’t – and will never – connect in the same way as purpose, beliefs and values. When Sara Lee found its footing again, it was remarkable how that change was reflected in the brand’s performance. Beliefs, deeper meaning and mission are core to creating the emotional connections that impact consumer buying decisions and actions.

  • Great care should be exercised to help ensure your company’s “why” will remain steadfast and vital over time – even if new leadership arrives to carry the torch forward.

If locking in your company’s “why” resonates with you or if your organization needs to optimize its purpose and belief system, use this link to start a conversation. We promise it will be interesting and enlightening.

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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Beliefs and deeper meaning drive brand resonance

Unlocking the Amazing Power of Belief

August 9th, 2023 Posted by brand advocacy, Brand Beliefs, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “Unlocking the Amazing Power of Belief”

Deploying the biology of effective communication

For a brand message to have any real impact, to influence behavior and seed advocacy, it requires more than awareness and publicity. It must advance a relevant higher purpose, cause or belief system that people who share your values will immediately resonate to. Only then can your message create any lasting marketplace impact.

It is not the quality of your products that causes the category to tip your direction. Absent a refined brand WHY, new innovations and technologies will rapidly find themselves playing the circular and commoditizing price-and-feature game. Your competitive advantage gets real traction when you are crystal clear about the human-relevant purpose and mission you exist to champion.

An identifiable cohort of consumers exists who share your beliefs and then want to integrate your ideas and products into their own lives. It is their ability to understand and embrace your purpose, your WHY, that causes them to embrace your brand. They view what you make as a tangible path to reflect and demonstrate their purpose and beliefs to the world around them.

Beliefs are powerful and can be enlisted to change the trajectory of brand growth

It’s important to remember that “consumers” are first and foremost real, human three-dimensional people. As such, we are hardwired to gravitate toward people, places as well as things (products) that reinforce what we believe about the world and ourselves.

  • Beliefs influence our behaviors and how we see ourselves
  • Beliefs are emotional and rise from deep within us to inform decisions
  • Beliefs run underneath our cognizant, analytical radar to impact our feelings and decisions
  • Beliefs help people understand, connect and engage with your brand
  • Beliefs are respectful of human biology and how we’re wired to take action (through feelings not facts)

Yet we find that belief systems are largely undernourished in business strategy because of a flawed assumption that a better mousetrap is the motivating tool that draws in consumers. Ultimately, products in any given category will be more similar than they are unique. Frankly, there isn’t any proprietary tech advantage that can be sustained over time without competitive dilution.

Instead, people are magnetically drawn to leader-type brands that communicate what they believe. This unique approach helps consumers feel safe and special – like they belong – and are inspired to align with the brand because the story and mission resonates so personally.

Future of food brands are often mission oriented

Emergent works with emerging food brands who are reinventing how food is created with a vastly improved sustainability story. To a one, the founders and leadership teams believe they exist to improve the health and wellbeing of people while measurably improving the impact of our current food system on global warming.

Their technologies are instrumental in changing the greenhouse gas paradigm. But that is not the reason they will be successful or that people will be drawn to their offering. It is the inspiration they provide to help enable consumers in exercising their conscious consumption wishes. To improve their wellbeing with healthier food choices and create a safer future for themselves and their families. These brands understand that taste, eating experience and proper price are all table stakes and not the real reason for marketplace success. Empowering consumers to experience ‘making a difference’ is the real brand elevator.

Thus, why conveying values, mission and purpose are so vital to success rather than relying on historic tactics that attempt to leverage features, lower price or the more subtle tactical manipulations of persuasion, fear, vanity, status, shame, peer pressure and social acceptance to close a sale.

One big example: we live in a nation founded on inspiration of a better future for people

In July of 1776 the world was forever changed with the emergence of the United States, the first-ever constitutional republic – a democracy ‘of and for the people’ – now at 247 years of age the oldest of its kind on earth. A new nation founded on ideals and principles that espoused freedom of speech and press, an elected representative government, the rule of law and a promise of a better future for people.

These ideals form the foundation of an inspired sense of opportunity and the expectation of an individual’s ability to pursue their own goals and aspirations. Despite the enormous flaws and inconsistencies that dogged the nation through a Civil War 84 years after its founding, the resilience wrapped in these beliefs and sense of purpose have stood the test of time.

America is one of the most powerful examples of “Why” culture and the influence of deeper meaning writ large. It is embedded in our American attitudes, thinking and distinctive behaviors. These principles and aspirations have spread around the world, yet most of these new democratic governments are less than 70 years old and still evolving.

  • We have unique stories to tell about our nation’s founding
  • Symbols abound about the American legacy of freedom
  • It is inspirational to how we think and see our lives
  • Our societal beliefs are founded on the concept of greater good

Yet for all of the evidence of how a nation founded on beliefs and values serves as an inspiration to a brighter future over time, and the power of values to impact attitudes and behavior – this POV hasn’t rubbed off as fully as it could on business and brand development thinking.

When brands become symbols of values and beliefs we hold close

Health, wellbeing, achievement, creative exploration, better relationships, education, love, serving others – there are so many places a brand can live to inspire users and improve their lives. It is in this moment of unselfish thinking that an environment of trust is created.

The process to explore and refine a brand’s “why” begins with consumer-centricity and works backward from there. It is formative insight into your customers’ interests, concerns and desires that informs a creative exploration around brand beliefs – which should reflect and mirror your users’ aspirations.

Emergent has developed a proprietary process for this evaluation we call Brand Sustainability Analysis – in this case the word sustainable refers not to environmental concerns directly but to sustainable brand growth over time.

The six primary components include:

  • Core beliefs that are consumer centric and address how the brand contributes to improving users lives and the world around them.
  • Based on those beliefs, Why the company exists, its core mission and higher purpose.
  • How the company will fulfill its belief-driven higher purpose and mission.
  • Therefore, What business the company is truly in and assets required to fulfill that promise based on the brand purpose.
  • The company BrandStand that expresses the business’ true north and becomes an embedded guide for decisions on strategy, policy, employee policy and recruitment, innovation and marketing going forward.
  • Implications of the BrandStand on company operations and marketing strategies.

If you agree that inspiration is a stronger path to influencing consumer decisions than passe’ tactical manipulation, and that an optimized purpose and mission – your why – can lead to brand advocacy and evangelism, then we should talk. Use this link to begin 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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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