Posts in Brand preference

Home Depot weighs in on disaster recovery

Could Home Depot Be One of the Most Trusted Retail Brands on Earth?

January 30th, 2023 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, Brand trust, branded content, CMO, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, storytelling 0 comments on “Could Home Depot Be One of the Most Trusted Retail Brands on Earth?

Why Trust is the Engine that Drives Business Growth

“Trust takes years to earn, seconds to break and possibly forever to repair.”

Stephan Houraghan

Trust is fundamental to brand success, to sustainable business growth, to forging relationships with consumers, to any hope of genuine engagement. Yet trust creation often isn’t an articulated, strategic component of the business and marketing plan.

Yet when trust breaks out, it is transformational, even monumental in terms of its impact and ability to help lift the vitality of a brand over time. Why so? Truth be told, we confide in and share attention with people we trust. Similarly, we avoid people we believe to be inauthentic and untrustworthy. No surprise we apply the same rules to the buying decisions we make and preference for the brands – CPG or retail – that matter to us.

Home Depot – a study in retail trust creation

Video is a powerful, dynamic medium because it allows us to take the viewer on location, to tell stories through the dramatic experiences of real people, to bring authenticity and emotion to the message. Home Depot produced a remarkable 16-minute video documentary about the company’s encounters with disaster. As climate change impact unfolds, more and more of these events will transpire. Thus, in many ways Home Depot finds itself on the front lines of emergency response – an essential crisis caretaker for community residents, and also its own employees.

This video is a powerful, moving treatment about corporate higher purpose that by sheer number of events filmed reveals a deep soulful and unselfish commitment to the welfare of people impacted by devastating events. The narrative unfolds an unflinching willingness to show empathy and courage, with competence and effect, dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, and disruption to family lives.

It is riveting. You can’t take your eyes off it.

Home Depot team assembles much-needed relief supplies

This is trust creation in its finest hour; a moving panorama of personal testimony to how the company navigates the pain and wreckage of devastating events. It isn’t scripted or self-promotional. It demonstrates a corporate culture that is invested in improving, rescuing the lives of its customers and associates when its needed most.

Trust is a fundamental requirement for any brand-to-consumer relationship. Yet it cannot be invoked or claimed or endowed simply because a business has been around for a while. Trust and a reputation of trustworthiness must be earned, demonstrated in behaviors and practices.

Yet all-too often brands assume trust is  plentiful. As such, strategies to further cultivate or deepen trust are seldom overt components of business strategy. Given trust’s importance to brand loyalty and business growth, we believe it should be a top priority in 2023 – especially in the environment we find ourselves.

  • Brand trust is at an all-time low, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. Why? Because people are confronted daily with real-world examples of trust factures, unrepentant missteps, half-truths, lies by omission, dishonesty and overt efforts to deceive.

Here we will examine trust, how it operates and what can be done to build it.

What is brand trust?

It is a belief the brand will –

  • Put my interests ahead of its own
  • Continue to work to keep me happy, safe and satisfied
  • Not look at the relationship as transactional
  • Help me achieve my goals and aspirations
  • Endeavor to make investments in the strength of our bond
  • Remain resolutely, consistently honest and transparent

What are the essential elements that govern brands people trust?

  • Competence
  • Honesty
  • Authority
  • Integrity
  • Values consistent with our own
  • Humanity
  • Empathy
  • Advocacy
  • Unselfishness

Home Depot anyone? Of note these are all very human characteristics that we expect from people we value and with whom we have trusted relationships.

How often do we see these characteristics manifested in ongoing business behaviors? Not often enough given the fragile state of brand trust today. Trust is absolutely a strategic asset and yet difficult to secure.

What are the benefits of actively building brand trust?

First and foremost, you gain permission for engagement and attention with a current or potential customer. People are busy these days and make conscious decisions with where they spend time and whether or how they open themselves up to any brand interaction.

Second, trust breeds loyalty and consistent repeat purchases. By virtue of the strength and belief in the relationship, missteps are quickly forgiven. Especially when the brand has the integrity to acknowledge mistakes and own any shortcomings.

Being a trusted brand is truly such a rare condition. Brands achieving this rarified air become home to advocates, ambassadors and evangelists who join the brand’s community as members rather than users. Think Patagonia, Google, Nike and Toyota.

The three characteristics of a trusted bran

  1. Refined higher purpose

Higher purpose is a trust creating platform because it automatically imbues the brand with deeper meaning and values. It serves as an anchor for corporate culture and puts the welfare and wellbeing of people front and center in how decisions are made. It is a visible demonstration of commitment to goals and endeavors beyond the expected devotion to profit and transactions.

2. Super transparency

Consumers are relentlessly curious. They want verification and validation of what their favored brands assert and claim. Brands that invite consumers behind the curtain to reveal how products are made, where ingredients are sourced from, how the operation works in service of its stated priorities, provides hope and inspiration that honesty and disclosure are more than words in a press release.

3. Active social community

Community created content and conversations are present when companies do not try to over-regulate the narrative in their social channels. Instead, they actively encourage discourse and sharing of experiences. They are also quick to respond to issues and concerns as they arise, without defensiveness and in a human, conversational voice rather than “policy speak.” The voices of community members reinforce trustworthiness through credible validation of your promises. If your social content output is more promotional than conversational you are not leveraging the medium for trust building.

The trust building toolbox

You must strategically, intentionally work to position your brand as a source of useful, valuable guidance and enablement, not just a feature/benefit promoter.

The tools are straightforward – it’s the narrative and how the story is assembled that helps bring trust to life:

  • Videos
  • Tutorials
  • E-books
  • Webinars
  • Newsletters
  • Lifestyle Content posts
  • On-site events and experiences

If you find yourself in agreement that trust creation should be a centerpiece of your efforts this year and would like fresh thinking on how to bring it to life, use this link to start a conversation. We are first and foremost, strategic brand storytellers.

Link to Home Depot video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cHs5UkVfxk&t=972s

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 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Sustainability transformation

Inevitable Truths to Accelerate Sustainability Transformation

May 19th, 2022 Posted by Brand Activism, brand advocacy, brand marketing, Brand preference, Carbon footprint, Climate Change, climate culture, storytelling, Sustainability, Transformation 0 comments on “Inevitable Truths to Accelerate Sustainability Transformation”

New website illuminates the changes and solutions ahead

The number of Americans who are passionate or concerned about sustainable choices in the food products they buy is rising. Rapidly. At the same time media are galvanizing around stories that report on the climate impacts from agriculture. These two conditions will fast-track the pace of change in consumer sustainability preferences and demands.

  • We are headed towards a tipping point when recognition of the role our food system plays in environmental impacts will prompt mandates for public policy changes, food production improvements and more sustainable brand choices.

The time is now to prepare for sustainability readiness as media, influence and culture shifts coalesce to push consumer sentiment forward to tangible behavior changes. We believe this will substantially impact your business strategies in the coming decade.

Two converging issues: carbon footprint visibility and supply chain realities

Supply chain emissions are, on average, 11.4 times higher than operational emissions.

The growing corporate uptake on ESG performance measurement started with ‘low hanging fruit’ evaluations of operational emissions (Scope 1). Then advanced to confront energy use (Scope 2). However, supply chain lifecycle analysis (Scope 3) will unearth the most salient and vital conditions that impact an organization’s true carbon footprint – and thus inform the most meaningful mitigation progress targets. You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are!

Industrial animal agriculture derived environmental impacts will become visible. In the food business, this is likely to influence brand and retailer decisions about your supply chain partners.

The food system reality check(mate)

Here’s relevant data that helps us understand why the significant cultural shifts are here.

  • Agriculture generally is responsible for anywhere from 24 to 30 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation systems combined.
  • According to the United Nations, 14.5 percent of those emissions can be attributed to meat production. The impacts of raising livestock for food are far reaching – from ruminant animals producing methane to land degradation, loss of biodiversity and over-consumption of limited freshwater resources.
  • Forty percent of the world’s available land is currently used for food production and of that, nearly 75 percent of it is dedicated to livestock farming. Rainforest conversion to livestock production is occurring at a shocking rate of an acre per second.
  • Today more than half of Americans think livestock production contributes to global warming “at least a little.” Only one in four believe beef contributes “a lot.” And those numbers decline slightly for dairy production.
  • However, awareness of these impacts is expanding and media attention on sustainability deficits and emissions in the food system are gaining momentum.
  • Currently 67 percent of Americans eat meat daily or a few times a week. Yet nearly every study we see points to growing consumer interest in adding more alternative proteins and plant-based foods to their diet. The reasons for these dietary modifications are swinging from health to environmental concerns.
  • The barriers to alternative protein adoption are price compared to legacy options, and taste compromise. Those two issues can be resolved by manufacturers through innovation, formulation improvement and cost reduction. As awareness of environmental impacts grows, adoption of new food sustainable categories will rapidly expand alongside it.
  • Studies suggest a shift to alternative protein sources could reduce emissions by 92 percent compared to raising livestock for food while reducing land use by up to 95 percent.
  • The United Nations warns we are running out of time before climate impacts and global warming exceed our ability to reverse it. At risk is the southern half of the earth and potential permanent loss of farmland rendered unsuitable for growing crops.

What does all of this mean to your business?

The time to get ahead of sustainability readiness best practices is here and now. Performance in this critical area creates important levers of competitive marketplace advantage. Why? Consumers are demanding sustainable choices. How this transition is handled strategically will have implications for future growth and brand relevance.

What brands and businesses need: guidance on sustainability readiness practices and support to level up improved strategies all the way through to the marketplace.

Today we announce brandsustainabilitysolution.com. Your online destination for information, thought leadership and support services to help meet and exceed consumers’ sustainability expectations in food, beverage and related retail categories.

  • We invite you to explore and learn more about the Brand Sustainability Solution™ platform. There, you can sign-up for our free Sustainable Business Update™ and access our free sustainability readiness self-assessment questionnaire that will provide a quick snapshot of where your business is today on the readiness path.

What’s at stake? The future of your business, brand relevance and the planet itself.

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.

Technology has leveled the competitive advantage playing field

The million-dollar barrier to great marketing has vanished!

March 8th, 2022 Posted by brand marketing, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, branded content, CMO, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “The million-dollar barrier to great marketing has vanished!”

A massive leveling has commoditized advantages

Once there was a time when world-class marketing, by definition, was expensive. Bigger brands enjoyed advantages by way of larger marketing and media budgets that smaller players just couldn’t muster. A price of entry existed for superior production values and more cinematic forms of storytelling.

Those barriers have disappeared. What do you do when anyone, anywhere can compete with you on the quality of communication? What happens when the budgetary obstacles to outreach evaporate and anyone from anywhere can distribute high quality, engaging content? What unfolds when the importance of reaching mass audiences served by mass (expensive) media vanish because markets have bifurcated into smaller tribes of consumers who elect and select the brands they care about “joining?”

Read on to understand the shift in competitive advantage and where to go when a bigger budget doesn’t necessarily author any marketplace leverage.

Seth Godin marked the change beautifully in a recent post:

“To make an album of music good enough to make it to the Top 40, it used to cost a million dollars. Now you can do it in your bedroom.

To make a commercial for network TV, a minute of footage cost about a million dollars…

And that same million was what it would cost to create an email engine for permission-based marketing in 1996.

And you needed a million dollars to build a website that could hold up under a lot of traffic, or to build a social media presence that would reach a million people.

All of these things are now incredibly cheap.”

Remarkably, many brands and businesses still operate as if these big wallet advantages exist – assuming the consumer marketplace will absorb their content before, above, beyond and more often than anyone else’s (as if repetition helps in an avoidance-enabled market). Just. Not. True.

A seed funded CPG food start-up or small footprint retailer is capable of producing a more impactful, useful and engaging web site than a large cap CPG brand or 1,000-door retail banner. Of note, capable is just that – there’s no inherent win from being small and new either. Same with video content. Same with social channel engagement. The entire competitive advantage paradigm has shifted from the few Goliaths to the many Davids.

What happens when technology and culture conflates the company size and budget advantages?

The big strategic question that must be factored into planning: what are the new rules of strategic advantage when everyone can compete with anyone?

  • The stakes on uniqueness and differentiation are amped and marginal distinctions constitute nearly zero brand leverage.
  • The requirement for deeper meaning, mission, higher purpose and values – your “why” – form the foundation of any strategic advantage. Based on our surveys, this foundation is more than likely under-served.
  • Putting the consumer at the center of brand narrative and communication strategy is now table-stakes to any hope of engagement.
  • The humanization of your brand proposition and marketplace behaviors is a prerequisite to achieving relevance and resonance.
  • Your digital footprint must revolve around “romance” of the consumer’s lifestyle aspirations, needs and wants before any relationship can be successfully secured.
  • Larger brands don’t own any advantages here. Smaller brands don’t get a hall pass for being “nimble” (no one owns speed) or conceptually more authentic because output looks raw and amateur-ish.

The requirement for trust is universal and bigger brands don’t inherit that quality

“We’ve been here for 40 years” does not mandate trust. Reciting reasons intended to convince people you’re trustworthy doesn’t work because trust is not achieved through data or facts.

Bigger may reduce the perceptions of any risk in purchase as a business moves to the late stages on the adoption curve. That said it can also be a slippery slope to irrelevance, too.

Importantly, any “risk” attached to what is new and innovative can be managed with the right trust-building strategies and performances.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen close-up exciting new product concepts and nuances of evolutionary innovation that could potentially disrupt existing food and beverage categories. Yet the truth of the matter – there are also emerging brand communication efforts that are neither emotionally resonant nor fully dialed into consumer relevance.

  • We have ample proof that while a level playing field exists, guidance and sound strategy are needed no matter the size of the business from $1 million in trailing revenue to $1 billion.

The large brand paradox

Larger brands have greater challenges due to hide-bound traditions and inertia that moves against change.

“We’re too big to fail”

“We’ve always done it this way”

“Our growth is aligned with the category performance”

“We can’t (won’t) change the foundational aspects of what authored our original success”

“Wall Street won’t like it if we do anything radically different”

“We have significant costs sunk in our supply chain infrastructure”

“We already have high levels of brand recognition and awareness”

“What if we (read: I) fail”

Trust must be won daily. Brand equity dilution, decline and commoditization challenges are like laws of gravity and cannot be side-stepped. Ceding category territory to smaller creations may not feel like a contest initially because many leaders believe you can “buy” your way in. Yet we recognize that post-acquisition there will be risks of diluting the golden goose’s brand magic.

The new rules of engagement

Anyone, anywhere can outflank and beat well-funded competition on message relevance and quality communication. That means emotionally on-point, consumer-centric communication is fundamental no matter who you are, big or small.

  • Higher purpose, mission and values are the foundational elements of trust creation and any player in a category is either served or hampered by this requirement.
  • You have to get out of your own way.
  • Size is not insulation and creates other significant challenges that operate in favor of reinvention and renewal – when change is often resisted.
  • Disruption and differentiation are required when sameness is rampant everywhere and traditional category behaviors can dumb-down any perceived uniqueness.
  • There are far too many bigger brands that lack humanity in how their story is packaged and presented.

The beauty of a level playing field

For larger brands, this means potential repositioning and savings on the marketing budget line because throwing “money at it” doesn’t really get you there. This forces the importance of innovation, relevance, meaning and values that are the hallmarks of competitive advantage in the relationship economy era.

For smaller brands, you are not at an automatic disadvantage based on size. You can compete. Effectively. However, the requirement for world-class storytelling and engagement strategies remains as the price of entry. Are you prepared for it?

In the famous Pixar movie about a culinary genius rat named Ratatouille, we learn the story arc’s basic premise, “anyone can cook” – provided the right inspiration, effort, energy, focus and desire to learn exist. So, too, in the era of relationship-based marketing. We can return to focusing on the consumer and our storytelling chops, knowing that we can make a difference, and we can win in the marketplace for all the right reasons!

If this story stimulates some thinking that you would like to share with like-minded brand builders who can add value to your internal strategic conversations, use this link to start an informal dialogue.

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

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

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