Posts in engagement

Brand purchase funnel no longer relevant

Marketing Funnel Flipped on its Head

May 17th, 2024 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, engagement, Insight, Strategic Planning, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Marketing Funnel Flipped on its Head”

New direction on the evolving role of brand marketing

For the last 50 years CPG and retail brand building has been focused on chasing awareness. The theory that top-of-funnel recognition will lead to consideration, and if the brand is persuasive while spiraling further down the funnel, a consumer purchase will occur. Leave it to the impact of evolving culture and the presence of existential, environmental threats to shift behaviors and push the funnel off its pedestal. A distinctive new path to brand building has emerged and we will unpack it here. The good news: we are entering a period of unprecedented brand engagement, but the rules to success are decidedly different.

Remarkably the century old thinking that underpins the funnel was first developed in 1896 by E. St. Elmo Lewis, owner of a Philadelphia-based ad agency, who published the first theory on “consumer path to purchase” he called AIDA – short for Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. By 1924 this concept had morphed into what we now refer to as the Purchase Funnel. Yes, there have been a few modifications along the way to accommodate digital and social media channels, but the basic view of awareness as the golden goal has traveled with the adjustments, until now.

The funnel is dead, long live the funnel…

The fundamental weaknesses of the funnel model have been exposed, as follows:

  • It is grounded in transactional thinking that positions consumers as walking wallets
  • It fails to address the dynamics of how real brand relationships are built
  • Assumes that consumers will behave in a linear fashion on the road to purchase

It’s fair to say that the focus of brand marketing work and investment has leaned heavily on top of funnel activity, frustrated somewhat by the demise of mass media, the splintering of consumer attention across channels and their uncanny newfound ability to avoid it all. Of note, tactical sophistication here in digital media eyeball aggregation isn’t helped by inherent strategic weakness.

Here’s the truth as we now know it. Consumers – especially Gen Z and Millennials – no longer operate in linear fashion. For one, the purchase isn’t the end game, rather it is the starting point. Consumption is now an infinite loop of inspiration, exploration, community participation and advocacy.

  • Old brand world: defined by conventional advertising, digital or analog
  • New brand world: defined by content, events, experiences and fandom

What are you risking if you continue to be an awareness chaser?

Declining relevance: your brand and business are seen as exploitive, possibly manipulative and transactional.

Lacking authenticity: your brand expresses promotional hype over user help in a world now longing for trust and deeper meaning from the brands consumers care about.

Incidentally, this is why Emergent exists. We focus on new strategic approaches that are grounded in culture and the latest consumer insight. Today, when consumers buy a product, they are actually buying your story and not a stock keeping unit (sku).

Edelman Trust Barometer sheds light on the shift

Edelman’s latest trust report revealed a remarkable change in behavior that has significant implications to sound brand building strategy. People have a strong cognitive bias for post-purchase rationalization. In fact, we also know that 95% of the time, consumers are driven by their efforts to avoid making a bad decision, or to experience disappointment.

Edelman’s research confirms where the action is: 50% of consumers now conduct the vast majority of their brand research AFTER purchase and not before. What’s more, 78% are looking for credible proof and validation that they made the right decision. Turns out post purchase is when people are most open to brand engagement.

You might be wondering what’s behind this change…

  1. The systematic dilution of trust and belief based in part on the absence of any prevailing brand value system, higher purpose or real, obvious evidence of same.
  2. The precipitous rise of vulnerability, uneasiness over a perceived lack of personal control authored by political, social and environmental stresses. 
  3. Too many brands think all they have to do is invoke the word trust in their marketing and they are automatically, well, trusted. Not so. Trust is earned not acquired. Always deeds more than words.

Right below the surface people look for safety and security in the midst of accelerating experiences sponsored by uncontrollable events around them. This manifests as a desire for deeper meaning, purpose and trust – now at an all-time premium. Call it heightened expectations for visible, demonstrable, easy-to-see brand values and a courageous point of view.

So how does it work now?

Consumer pre-purchase research leans into the influence of brand social communities where they uncover member reviews, experiences and hopefully advocacy. Thus, the strongest predictor of a thriving social strategy is the rate at which members connect with each other vs. the brand’s self-promoting posts. It just makes sense – people believe and respect the voices of their peers before they accept assertions claimed by brands.

Brand marketing is now about cultural influence

The great news – consumers in a post-purchase focused world are primed for engagement. No need to wrestle them to the ground with look-at-me overreach. Here’s directional advice on best practices.

  1. Trust creation: you should be conveying and demonstrating your brand purpose, mission and identity beyond the product on offer. Brand actions, reinforced through communication and education, helps you earn trust. 
  2. You’re working to confirm: competence, ethics, values and relevance to your consumer based on their identity and aspirations, which you endeavor to help enable.
  3. You deploy: credible and trusted voices in the form of “people like me” (via User Generated Content), scientists and academic experts, brand tech experts and employees.

It’s exciting to know that following purchase 79% of consumers engage in branded content, will participate in brand activities and want to connect on your social platforms. Your brand marketing should be operating to help feed and encourage this behavior. Trusted brands are repurchased, they secure loyalty and encourage evangelism.

If you’re interested in exploring the implications and strategies of a post-funnel marketing environment, use the link below to ask questions. Discussion and exploration can be enlightening, and we would be honored to talk informally with you about this exciting topic.

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.

Brand purpose, meaning and beliefs

You Can Harness Marketing’s Law of Physics

August 6th, 2023 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand Activism, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand trust, Differentiation, Emotional relevance, engagement, Higher Purpose, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “You Can Harness Marketing’s Law of Physics”

Divining the formula for consistent engagement and growth…

Are you aware of the remarkable chain reaction that will unleash powerful forces to immediately increase your brand’s salience, relevance, resonance and traction? Significant brand dynamism and energy are released when this singularly vital key unlocks engagement with your intended customer audience.

  • This is a law of marketing physics that creates trust and enduring relationships with consumers who will join your brand as supporters, believers, advocates and evangelists. Read on…

The theory we’re working to change…

Marketing has been hamstrung for decades on a recurring, reflexive default to using various forms of manipulation as the primary currency for purchase motivation. Chasing consumers with messaging that pushes status seeking, vanity, peer pressure, fear or social acceptance, alongside a devotion to amping product features and benefits often goosed with a price incentive. All of these tactics won’t deliver on the requirement of consumer trust and relationship. Brand business built on a foundation of transactional thinking is passé and expensive. Over time these all-too-familiar tactics inevitably commoditize your brand while forcing a continuous, elusive pursuit of incremental differentiation.

  • It’s a hamster wheel of strategic misfires that springs from a misunderstanding of how human beings are wired to make decisions.

Let’s take a collective timeout, step back and consider more deeply the human condition. New insight on how our minds function can indeed lead your brand to create trusted consumer relationships.

This requires moving away from a perception that consumers strictly buy “products” – and the only message that resonates is repetition of feature/benefit selling.

People aren’t buying what you do anymore, they’re buying why you do it.

Inspiration vs. manipulation

A reliable formula for repeatable, predictable results founded on brand mission and purpose is fundamentally more effective.

People are on a continuous search for deeper meaning. They innately resonate to values and beliefs that are aligned with their own views. When your brand reflects their values, you offer them a symbolic flag they wave as evidence to the world around them of who they are and what’s important to them.

In reality, this is human biology at work. Two important areas of the brain govern how we operate – the limbic and neocortex. The thinking, rational side of the brain (neocortex) governs learning, analysis and language. The limbic area informs our decisions and behaviors. It is driven by emotion. Brands want to find a home in the limbic zone that influences our decisions. It’s only there, that a brand will truly matter to the user beyond its functionality.

We know the sheer volume of data the limbic side can process per second is vastly superior to the learning area. Simply stated the limbic brain is far smarter than we give it credit for – thus, why our “gut instinct” can be so immediate and important to informing behaviors. This explains why the neocortex routinely defaults to the limbic part of the brain for our actions.

Inspiring consumers with your higher purpose, beliefs and mission – your “why” – is the pathway into the limbic brain. If you want to have a deeper relationship with consumers, then imbue your brand with deeper meaning by focusing on your why.

  • Brands that fail to focus on an emotive sense of “why” end up forcing people to make decisions with only empirical evidence, reluctantly burning precious mental calories in the neocortex. This explains why those decisions often require more personal commitment of time and energy, leaving us feeling taxed and uncertain.

This is what we mean when we talk about winning hearts and minds. The heart represents the limbic feeling part of the brain, and the mind is the rational, language center. Most brands are quite adept at attempting to win minds; that usually requires a comparison of product features, benefits and price points. Winning hearts, however, takes more effort and in the long run is far more rewarding.

  • Products with a clear sense of “why” give people an emotional pathway to trust them. Their purchase of your product serves as another way to tell the outside world who they are and what they believe.

In his book, Start with Why, author Simon Sinek provides a salient example:

“WHAT Apple makes, serves as the tangible proof of what they believe. It is that clear correlation between WHAT they do and WHY they do it that makes Apple stand out. This is the reason we perceive Apple as being authentic. Apple’s WHY, to challenge the status quo and to empower the individual. It is a pattern that repeats in all they say and do. Apple, unlike its competitors, has defined itself by WHY it does things, not WHAT it does. It is not a computer company, but a company that challenges the status quo and offers individuals simpler alternatives.”

There are lots of ways to temporarily manipulate people to do things – lowering price, for example. However cultivating long lasting brand advocacy is an outcome of inspiring people with your mission and beliefs. Only when your brand “why” is clear and people believe what you believe can a true consumer-to-brand relationship unfold.

It’s hard to make a case that your products or services are important to someone’s life if your efforts are founded on analytical facts and arguments the brand deems as valuable. However, if your “why” corresponds with consumers’ beliefs, they will see your products as a tangible way to help them express what they believe.

This formula for success shows up in messaging

Your brand narrative and story are either founded on your “why” (inspiration) or on what you do and how you do it (features and benefit selling). Inspiring consumers to join your brand as advocates and evangelists begins with embracing your mission and higher purpose. At Emergent we’ve created proprietary messaging process designed to refine and articulate brand higher purpose and how that manifests in characterizing the company’s mission, products and business strategy.

  • We’ve learned that the journey through this experience can be enlightening for company leadership. The outcome produces a clear foundation and anchor to help inform strategies, decisions and business investments moving forward.

Importantly, the real magic here is the shift a refined “why” creates in resonance and relevance of brand communication. By replacing the outmoded manipulation selling tactics and its requisite higher media costs to generate traction, this new modality of inspiring consumers will open doors to sustainable engagement and improved relationships with your brand’s user base. This is how communities of believers are created and brand trust is secured.

If you are inspired to further investigate and optimize your company’s “why” use this link to open an informal conversation on how this can work for your business.

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.

Strategy: the art of different

The Most Misunderstood Concept in Marketing: Strategy

June 7th, 2023 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Differentiation, engagement, Insight, Transformation 0 comments on “The Most Misunderstood Concept in Marketing: Strategy”

How to use strategy correctly for over-the-top success and growth

The word “strategy” frequently shows up in marketing plans, yet all too often actual strategy is missing in action, misapplied or simply misunderstood. Here we will clear the air on building the right strategic foundation. It is the difference maker in creating successful business outcomes.

Ultimately you want to build the brand standard that other companies benchmark against.

  • The brand consumers talk about
  • The known innovator
  • The one referenced in best practice case studies

Note: we’ve created a one-page summary of Emergent examples of strategy in action you can view or download at the end of this article.

In the absence of a strong strategic platform, a business will inevitably drift. Due to this constant state of uncertainty, all marketing “bets” will be consistently hedged. Competition is fierce and in the absence of real strategy companies are often relegated to tactics consisting of endless rounds of episodic cost reductions and various kinds of profit sapping price promotion.

Frankly it’s all too common…

Many businesses

  • End up contending with positioning confusion
  • Struggle to stand out resulting in higher levels of media spend
  • Realize uninspiring profit margins
  • Users don’t really care about the brand proposition that much
  • Hence switching on deal is rampant as adjacent brands are seen as interchangeable

What is sound strategy?

Strategy describes what you do differently. It is instruction and a guide on separating and elevating your business in a new category you create while authoring new rules to govern.

Sound strategy –

  1. Enables bravery
  2. Commands an emotional response
  3. Delivers clarity and passion
  4. Because it is grounded in a sense of conviction
  5. Focuses on where you are going and especially why
  6. Provides evidence of how you are different
  7. Informs every action you take

Higher purpose and mission are ultimately a path to differentiation

Forever and a day we’ve been advocates of deeper brand meaning, values and purpose, for the very reason it is a solid path to improved strategy. After all, what is business but a system designed to deliver value. To increase the value you collect, you increase the value you give. A unique value, such that consumers aren’t getting it from anyone else.

Our job at Emergent, as strategic guide and coach, is to help you define what that “why” is while pushing the edges of differentiation outward. Strategy is creating “different” because your systemic enemy is sameness.

Myth #1: Strategy is never about being better than X

You don’t compete.

You don’t compare.

You don’t define your bona fides against the other guy’s offering.

You’re not pursuing the same customers with a similar product and a similar story, a recipe for declining profit over time due to ever-present commoditization. As we’ve said, sound strategy is creating difference. Better isn’t different. Better is the same, “but we try harder.” This is not a sustainable path and is a slippery slope to similarity. Instead, your goal is to provide value that “competing brands” don’t.

Myth #2: Sound strategy is complicated, sophisticated and data driven

Strategy is NOT a cold-blooded scientific download.

Some believe the path to improved strategy is served through dense technical analysis in an attempt to “manufacture” rightness. Great strategy is steeped in meaning, passion and conviction. This is the fuel that pushes great brands to go further, harder, deeper and braver than others. Their goal to always over-deliver on their promises.

Myth #3: Strategy is actually improved marketing communication

A tendency in our field is to conflate strategy with messages, tag lines and ads. Strategy isn’t a message, rather it’s guidance and statement of what the business does and why.  Communicating a similar offering more creatively isn’t a lasting proposition and forces media spending levels upward to maintain baseline awareness of same.

“Different with a strong why” is naturally alluring and attracting. A great strategic platform inspires meaning, belief, membership and advocacy. In the end it is a blueprint for how the business operates top to bottom – springing from your “why” – founded in deeper meaning and differentiation. This will help you better define the right product mix and inform a compelling brand narrative.

Charts and graphs can’t replace imagination

Strong strategic ideas are more like life in general, rewarding boldness and distinctive concepts over reductive reasoning. Here’s a connect the dots moment: ultimately, people are the consumers of your strategic concept. Just remember people are irrational. Decisions are never made based on consideration of analytical, fact-based arguments.

That’s why you want to go with the strategy that gets your heart racing. It will impact what you do, how you organize the business and inform communication that engages and inspires others to join you on the adventure. If it just seems “sensible” it’s probably wrong.

You are looking for the unique value only you can deliver.

We’ve assembled Emergent examples of strategy in action in a one-page summary available for you to view or download from here.

If you believe it’s time for fresh strategic thinking, use this link to ask questions or open an exploratory conversation. It is an important discussion to have and one that ultimately can help transform your business.

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.

Consumer tribes and clans cloud the question of relevance

Rise of “Individuals” Requires Shift to Focused Strategy

April 3rd, 2023 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, engagement, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Rise of “Individuals” Requires Shift to Focused Strategy

Matter to someone or risk mattering to no one…

According to Stanford University, the computational power of AI is doubling every three months, helping to catalyze another transformational scientific revolution. The impact is everywhere, all at once. Equally rapid-fire shifts in cultural behaviors and conditions mandate a move to focused marketing over anything remotely resembling a broad brush. These two fluid developments are evidence of a pace and speed-of-change that are unprecedented and thus requires more vigilance from business decision makers.

Narrowing, specializing, customizing, individual-izing

Dear CEO and CMO – it’s time to identify a priority core customer audience and go all in. The era of mass markets and mass media serving a homogenous population is officially gone forever. To what extent is this reflected now in the business and marketing plan?

Let’s take a brief look at a few recent sea changes impacting the future of marketing and business strategy:

  • In 2034 Americans over the age of 65 will outnumber those under 18. Notably, an increase in life expectancy of just one year adds $38 trillion in annual global GDP. Meantime the birthrate in the U.S. has now fallen below replacement levels.
  • Over a recent 10-year period, household wealth of 65 to 75 year-olds increased 54% while the wealth of 25 to 35 year-olds declined by 11%. Gaps are growing.
  • The top 10% of American families hold a whopping 69% of total wealth. The bottom half holds only 2.8%.
  • Remarkably, the baby boom generation is 75% white. Contrast that number with Gen Z which is 52% white. By 2044, the majority of the U.S. population will be non-white.
  • 35% of the U.S. population age 25 to 50 has never married – compared to 9% in 1970. Young people increasingly are deciding not to marry, not to have children, not to own autos and are delaying home ownership. More impact to come.
  • The search for deeper meaning and purpose is rising around a frame of values and beliefs. It is replacing the traditional role of religion. Fewer than half of Americans now identify with a church. (Contrast this with the increased concern and interest in socially responsible actions and behaviors on the part of brands and businesses).
  • The number of teens who say they see their friends on a regular basis has dropped by 50% since the 1970’s. While 31% of Gen Zers characterize their mental health as bad. Troubling development.

Source: Deloitte

Pervasive uncertainty caused by the Pandemic, war in Ukraine, mass shootings, dramatic climate change impacts, racial tensions and economic gaps widening between haves and have nots, has unleashed a burning desire for the twin anchors of true purpose and deeper meaning. Fear, risk and compromised views of the future are producing a void in search of greater fulfillment.

  • To say the least, what matters, motivates and occupies consumer time and attention is rapidly changing. Who will help them?

Never before in the history of modern business and marketing strategy have brands had a greater opportunity to earn a position as consumer coach, guide, mentor, knowledge broker and enabler on their life journey. Filling a vacuum left by declining relevance of institutions and larger social circles.  But only if business values and soul are tethered to a higher purpose, mission and belief system that puts the welfare of consumers ahead of self-interest; now table stakes for trust creation.

Dawn of a marketplace populated with subsegments and microsegments

The age of tribal shared values and interests is upon us, driven by technology that helps curate the flow of information, ideas, even community which more closely align with our own world views and lifestyle preferences. In this environment, brands will be more successful by narrowing and focusing their appeal to specific attitudinal segments than attempting to be all things to all people, in service of mass markets that, frankly, no longer exist.

Consider these active lifestyle tribes:

Sustainability WarriorsItinerant TravelersReal & Fantasy Sportsters
Culinary ArtistsFamily FansHome Improvers
Pet-life PalsMusic MainlinersSerial Daters
Fashion ForwardsKitchenistasVinophiles
Social ActivistsDining-Out DenizensTech Nerds
Micro media mavensOutdoor AdventurersWellness Wonks

Everyone is in search of community with like-minded people who share passions and interests, yet so few brands make a concerted, creative effort to doggedly court them with relevant content and experiences.

One glance around the food and beverage marketplace and you’ll notice a teeming landscape of niche brand market specialists who, enabled by the collapsing barriers of gigantic scale that at one time characterized the mass market paradigm, are carving ever more refined and single-minded voices that resonate with specific market subsegments. The call to action for larger CPGs is no less compelling to prune and narrow-in on the most engaged and potentially faithful audiences by casting your lot with the lifestyle clans most likely to believe.

Find brand traction by becoming an enabler

You want your brand to matter to an audience of devoted fans and evangelists. The opportunity to create this level of resonance escalates with strategic decisions to spotlight your voice and efforts as an enabler and educator on their specific lifestyle interests. People believe they are unique individuals, a market of one if you will, in search of brands that matter to their curated worldview and tuned belief system.

What human-relevant purpose should you be mining?

What activities and experiences will draw them in?

What images best express an affiliation with how thy see themselves?

What words will resonate?

What information do they seek to improve themselves?

How can you best mirror their wants and desires?

What stories should you be telling?

How do you cloak your brand in authenticity and genuine (relevant) values?

How can you demonstrate through actions that you care about their welfare?

Planning steps in response to these developments

It can feel counter-intuitive to narrow your voice and story on specific subsegments of engaged consumers. However, this is precisely the requirement to create relevance with consumers who now belong to a unique tribe.

The heavy user, the brand fan, the category evangelist, the knowledgeable player – these individuals offer the greatest chance at mattering. Broad appeals focused on “awareness” goals won’t serve the mattering imperative, and thus your brand can be commoditized over time and bought mostly on price because category options are seen as interchangeable.

Take for example the culinary artist…

There is a cohort of people, both male and female, who find the kitchen to be their favorite place in the home. Emotional connectivity abounds in their devotion to culinary exploration, cooking-as-emotional-outlet with self-esteem derived from tasty outcomes. They like celeb chef interactions in part because of the techniques they observe and their desire to replicate the same sophisticated flavor profiles. They buy higher quality knives.

How can you feed their need for kitchen exploration?

How can you double down to become a source of ideas and training?

What experiences can you arrange to engage their gustatory desires?

What constitutes moments of surprise and delight you enable to gain their faith?

Can you help them relax with foodie vacation ideas?

What new kitchen tech should they know about?

What voices can you bring they respect, love and admire (borrowed equity for your brand, too)?

How can you build a community of sharing and opportunities to showcase their food solutions with peers?

The list here is nearly endless. It constitutes a deep dive into their lives while serving as coach and guide. In doing so you earn their trust and loyalty. Your brand begins to matter to them and becomes integral to how they define themselves. Your brand can become celebrated, talked about and admired.

The path to this level of engagement is paved with self-less appreciation of who they are, manifested now in how you show up in their lives to make a tangible difference.

Don’t you want to do business this way? So much more is going on here than quarterly price promotions and end caps. Within your marketing team should be lifestyle and insight experts who deeply understand your customers’ interests, needs, wants, aspirations and to use that data to inform strategy on how the brand shows up in their day-to-day lives.

  • You no longer need to depend on banging people over the head relentlessly with self-promotional messaging they ultimately ignore. Now you’re firing on all of the relevance and resonance cylinders founded on constructing an authentic, true relationship.

This is the future of marketing in a micro-segment world. It’s not about aggregating eyeballs, rather about making certain customer cohorts are the center of your universe — and working backwards from there. To the degree you can inspire people, you earn a place in their lives that helps make your brand irreplaceable. Persuasion isn’t the game. Helping, leading, guiding is the new operating paradigm.

Go narrow. Go all in.

If you find this concept compelling and worth deeper exploration, use this link to start an informal conversation about mapping a better, more focused future for your brand and business.

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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