Posts tagged "Behavioral psychology"

Apple swings for the emotional fence, breaks ad rules

Seven Million Reasons Why Strategy Eludes the World’s Most Expensive Ad Spend

February 23rd, 2024 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand differentiation, brand messaging, branded content, Consumer insight, Digital disruption, Emotional relevance, Mission, resonance, storytelling 0 comments on “Seven Million Reasons Why Strategy Eludes the World’s Most Expensive Ad Spend”

Important to respect the human sitting on other side of the screen

The Super Bowl attracted a bit north of 123 million viewers, the greatest aggregation of human eyeballs in one place at one time, and thus the reason why 53 TV spots aired at a $7 million per 30-seconds clip. It is an unprecedented event where advertising is as much of a contact sport as the action on the football field. People tune in specifically to consume the ads — what an amazing impact opportunity-in-the-waiting, but nevertheless not often optimized largely due to an absence of sound strategy on how people make decisions and take action.

  • David Ogilvy once famously remarked that if attention was all that mattered then you could put a ‘gorilla in a jockstrap’ in an ad. Yet that’s not what drives real effectiveness. He knew it and built a global agency powerhouse on that model of respect for consumer insights, perhaps now forgotten in the age of ‘can you top this’ over-reach with the display of so many digital bells and whistles.

Moreover, the Super Bowl ad is just the tip of the spending iceberg when looking at the total costs of gargantuan celebrity contact fees, massive production budgets and the veritable supermarket of extensions in packaging, retail tie-ins and social media on and off ramps.

Yet in astounding fashion, sound strategy is mostly absent from this festival of short form cinematic spectacle. The temptation to pursue attention at the expense of real relevance is just too great. In circa 2024, the ad party turned into a conspicuous mish mash of celebrity faces, much like excessive name-dropping at a Hollywood cocktail party. It’s no secret that all-too often the celebrity brand will outshine the product brand. So why does it go this way?

Guess what, emotion drives behavior

The neocortex area of the human brain governs our decisions and the actions we take. As much as we would all prefer to believe that people are logical beings who make decisions based on facts and information, instead we respond to emotional cues – how we feel in the presence of a brand. Yet too few of the ads we saw were designed with intention to drive for that kind of authentic connectivity. Given the huge one-shot spend level, you’d think it would be different.

Yes, a different approach is needed

In 2023’s super game, the highest rated commercial was a total outlier from a small pet food company called The Farmer’s Dog. This high-level and instructive achievement in strategic brand communication was the polar-opposite of the celebrity dragon-riding special effects we witnessed this year. Here Farmer’s Dog offered a story well-told that traced the poignant and touching relationship between a dog and young girl owner, charting the course of their life’s journey together. Not a word was spoken. No celebrity cameo. No green screen special effects wizardry.

It was an emotional, heartfelt, memorable celebration of the incredibly powerful and important relationship between a person and their dog. There was no recitation of production formulation features or superior ingredient claims. The brand wasn’t shouted in every frame. It didn’t need any egregious self-promotion to get the message across. It was supremely effective because people left it with an emotional connection. We all recognize that unique bond between pet parent and furry family member. The pet food existed as an enabler of pet wellbeing on life’s pathway.

Desperately seeking attention

Creating content for an engaged audience is just different than trying to capture an audience with some wild content. Too many brands seeking attention at the expense of sound strategy. The truth is human beings are feeling creatures who think not thinking creatures who feel. If you want to manage perceptions of your brand, and yes that should be a goal, then you really need to manage emotions. If your objective is to assure communication is remembered, to have impact, then emotional gravitas is paramount.

Proper use of the world’s greatest ad venue to deliver boldness

Way back in 1984, Apple used the setting to unveil their new Macintosh computer with a historic ad that captivated the world’s attention. It was a bold and also controversial strike, so much so the Apple Board was wary of showing it right up to the telecast. It aired and both ad history and the upstart Apple brand was made. It was a powerful message about democratizing the power of creativity and expression in the hands or everyone – railing against the dictates of the “establishment.”

Speaking of bold, what about sustainability and ESG in the midst of uncertainty?

Nearly every major brand in the food, beverage and lifestyle worlds is working hard to address their sustainability bona fides and emissions performance. It is by definition an opportunity for a brand to focus on higher purpose, mission, reputation and value beyond transactional thinking. Yet we don’t see that showcased here. We have entered a new era where brands are expected to have a point of view, a belief system and to be standard bearers of change. We remain hopeful that someday soon, a progressive brand will take advantage of the super venue to convey what people seek – a healthier, safer planet.

Guidance going forward

Put the consumer at the center of your planning and thinking and work backwards from there. Recognize that shameless self-promotion makes a brand the hero of any story told, and by doing so casts the brand in direct competition with the consumer who sees themselves each and every day as the hero of their life’s journey. Celebrate your consumer and their wishes, needs and aspirations like Farmer’s Dog did with such excellence. This is sound strategy. Your brand deserves this approach to spending effectiveness and outcomes, whether at the Super Bowl or in routine quarterly brand and business support.

If this post gets you thinking about how best to optimize and improve your planning for improved communications effectiveness, use the email link below to ask questions and start and informal conversation.

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

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

Path to Purchase is Evolving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story telling era has emerged to replace interruption and manipulation

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

Brand storytelling is at its most dynamic state when integrating:

Culture –

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

Psychology –

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

Emotion –

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

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

Content streams

Social communities

Installations and pop-ups

Real world and retail experiences

If you want to know more, ask questions or discuss Noetic Intelligence and its application to your business, use this link and let’s talk.

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

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

Brand 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.

Street racing victory snatched by NOS

Why your “why” is vital to brand competitive advantage

July 6th, 2023 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, Brand trust, Emotional relevance, Higher Purpose, Insight, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Why your “why” is vital to brand competitive advantage”

Doing business in the era of higher purpose and beliefs

As a brand builder focused on burnishing your organization’s most vital asset, your business goal isn’t to convince and persuade customers to buy. Consumers, weary of persuasion tactics and overt brand promotion, quickly dismiss those efforts with a simple click. To pass through the gatekeeping gauntlet, brands need to understand what consumers really want from you – and it’s not more of the same. Rather, your brand marketing goal is to inspire. You might agree motivating people isn’t easy. Thus, why you can’t build a community of committed users and devout brand evangelists by promoting improved formulations and recipes.

Yet so often we find brands preoccupied with their slightly better product mousetrap, thinking enhanced features and benefits comprise the alluring magnet to fuel growth. Not so. Instead, you are navigating in a mental and emotional ocean between the rational and the heart.

Giving people a sense of purpose, deeper meaning and belonging lie at the foundation of every sustainable brand-to-consumer relationship.

The incredible power of “why”

In the early editions of The Fast and The Furious movie franchise we witnessed the recurring testosterone-amped challenges of street racing. Inevitably, as our hero races neck and neck towards the finish line, a canister is activated next to the console that injects Nitrous Oxide into the engine. Boom, an incredible burst of horsepower slingshots our intrepid protagonist across the finish line, literally blowing the competition away.

The NOS (Nitrous Oxide System) is a secret acceleration amplifier that supercharges engine output, thus burying the other racers in a cloud of oxygenated dust. Today similar competitive advantage exists for brands that tune their value proposition with an advanced power generator of relevance and resonance. The NOS of brand marketing is a different kind of “air and fuel” chemistry, founded on an emotional alchemy of mission, meaning and values.

Just like engines of a certain size generate similar levels of horsepower, food and beverage brands focused on claims of superior taste cancel each other out because great taste is table stakes. On a technical formulation level, products in most categories are nearly identical. Competitive advantage based on assertions of technical wizardry isn’t sustainable because everyone brandishes the same wand. Literally everything we eat or drink can be reverse engineered to deliver comparable taste and texture performance.

“Why” is the catalyst for authentic relationships with your users

Here’s the news: the consumers’ worldview has changed – and relating to a brand is now fundamentally the same thing as relating to a person. When you refine and invest in brand purpose and mission, it creates an opportunity to achieve transcendence – the state of being admired – where consumers “join” your brand as members, not merely customers.

Meaning, in order to secure significant financial premiums, sustainable brand relationships must be built first on their admiration and trust of your brand. As evidence of the shift, brand advocacy is now a more important and relevant goal than loyalty.

Of note, this representation of goodwill can be isolated as a component of business value. It can result in higher margins or traffic. Moreover, deeper relationships with consumers will ultimately help reduce the cost of promotion, improving ROI and bottom-line performance. This happens because you are no longer relying on a constant (expensive) drumbeat of self-promotion to refire fleeting, fickle attention spans.

Businesses built on “why” understand that brand relationships work best on the basis of true, authentic reciprocity and humanity. Consequently, they are not superficial, opportunistic or purely transactional. In order to mine the advantages of sustainable brand relationships, marketers have a responsibility to push added meaning, trust and belief to the forefront of the relationship. This insight forms the basis for sound strategic planning.

  • Consumers expect premium food and beverage solutions to meet their great taste requirement. Competitive marketplace leverage isn’t found on the factory floor. It is discovered in the hearts and minds of consumers who now care more about why you do what you do than either what you offer or even how it is made.

Mining the influence of cultural shift

Operating in tandem with a refined value and belief system is the wider influence of cultural shifts on preference and behavior.

Purchases today are largely symbolic gestures. They are flags consumers wave to inform the world around them about their lifestyle priorities – an expression of who they are that is in many ways a mirror of the cultural context swirling around them. For consideration: to what extent have you embedded symbolism and flags of meaning in how your brand story is packaged and presented to help consumers signal those values-based belief statements through purchasing your products?

Larger issues now influence food culture precipitating changes in what consumers are looking for in brands. The store checkout lane today has evolved into a form of voting booth where consumers cast their ballot in favor of a better life and world.

What do they want? Are we helping them with what they want?

More sustainable choices:

One of the most powerful cultural influences of the era we live in is the emergence of conscious consumption – a realization that our eating and purchasing decisions have a consequence. People are learning about the relationship between food production and carbon emissions impact.

  • Climate change is upon us and with it comes a sensitivity to what goes on behind the curtain of our carbon-heavy food system.

Recently in Chicago, for five straight days a grey haze and smoky odor blanketed the city, sending air quality to “worst in the world” status – all due to Canadian wildfire smoke that traveled south and wouldn’t dissipate. Wildfires are occurring at record breaking levels now. These global climate events are a recurring theme.

People were advised to stay indoors. To avoid breathing the outside air given its hazardous particulate content. Meanwhile unrelenting heat waves in the south impact farm and crop viability while helping sponsor conditions that encourage deadly tornados. All of this serves as real-world evidence to everyone that climate change impacts are among us.

The outcomes of these environmental incidents and increasingly erratic (dangerous) temp and weather conditions is a cultural shift towards preference for eco-responsible and sustainable choice, although in many cases brands haven’t made it any easier to identify what is a credible carbon-friendly option.

Health, wellness and a desire to reassert personal control:

Latent pessimism reinforced by daily media reporting has most people believing the future is less certain and that conditions beyond their control may impact future quality of life. Humans resolutely look for ways to add control when everything around them appears chaotic. This has served to amp the importance of investments in personal health and wellness. This is a move to create physical (and emotional) resilience in the midst of events that suggest the environment is suffering at the hands of policies and behaviors which inflict various forms of climate damage.

No longer just a weight management motivation, healthy living is a lifestyle and “survival” choice that helps people reacquire a sense of control over their wellbeing. Gym visits, the explosion of Pilates classes, cycling exercise studios and online therapists. Similar to how consumers increasingly see the connection between food choice and sustainability, efforts to improve personal and mental health are cultural mandates increasingly embraced by a wider swath of the population.

Experiences over consumption for its own sake:

Culinary and environmental tourism, chef-inspired food and wine events, even dangerous expeditions to the deep ocean floor, serve as reminders that experiences offer a form of expectation magic that has surpassed the former thrill of the consumption economy.

We have managed to pack and stack storage facilities with the worn-out treasures of “buying stuff” – evidence that years of acquiring has left families with mountains of extra clothes, furniture, equipment and credit card debt. “Things” as evidence of elevated status and success no longer hold the same allure.  We have exhausted materialism and replaced the void with interests in adventures that reward our emotional desire for transcendent and novel experience.

Modern brands as coach, guide, advisor and enabler

All of these evolutionary changes in behaviors and desire provide one of the most positive, significant and vital opportunities for brands to acquire a valuable role in their consumers’ lives. Your brand’s number one job is to help your users on their life journey. To provide value that extends beyond the utility of the product you sell.

  • How incredible is it that consumers have arrived at a place where advice and guidance are key to achieving their goals. Can we help provide it? Can we step into the breach to be an enabler of their wishes and interests? Can we impart wisdom and tools they can use to improve their lives?

Yes we can! If we finally decide that improved relationships are key to business growth more so than product feature/benefit selling. This is the challenge of the age and one, if you choose to accept it, that can result in a deeper relationship with your users founded on delivering deeper meaning and value.

  • Here is a link to our one-page overview of these shifts and changes. Please take a moment to click the link to read. It may serve as inspiration for a deeper conversation with us about ways to map an improved 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.

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.

Breaking the chains of interruption marketing

Breaking Free from the Handcuffs of Intrusion Marketing

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

Embrace a new paradigm for successful brand storytelling…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The electronic fake-out

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

The essential truth about today’s consumer

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

In short people are ready to embrace:

Optimism over fear

Sacrifice over greed

Citizenship over consumption

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

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

Wholeness – moving beyond self-centeredness

Mastery – learning, competence and the struggle to improve

Justice – investing in, structuring a moral center

Depth – examining life and its complexities and possibilities

Simplicity – understanding the essence of things

Beauty – recognizing and experiencing aesthetic pleasure

Truth – the polar-opposite of falsehood

Uniqueness – mining creativity and non-conformity

Playfulness – celebrating joy and life experiences

Creating cinematic, powerful brand stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, this isn’t easy!

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

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

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

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

Emerging food tech and a drama of the ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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