Posts tagged "brand preference"

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Your Brand Soul is the Engine of Competitive Advantage

April 24th, 2024 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, Brand Beliefs, Brand differentiation, brand messaging, Brand preference, Brand Soul, brand strategy, Brand trust 0 comments on “Your Brand Soul is the Engine of Competitive Advantage”

Why is it evaporating in CPG and retail brand building?

Your customers want to be part of a brand world and ecosystem you construct through conscious cultivation of your brand’s deeper meaning, higher purpose, convictions and expressed values. Never before have CPG and retail brands had this extraordinary opportunity to build such close and endearing user relationships because our culture — and consumer behavior with it — has permanently changed. Yet far too many organizations struggle with this, or ignore it, because they have inadvertently lost, diluted or forgotten their own soul. Yes, brands indeed have a soul.

  • In the absence of a clearly wrought and codified “brand constitution,” too many compromises amidst the battles of year-to-year commerce and the inevitable maturation of category rules and conventions, work to chip away at this essential brand foundation.

In the go-go 80’s and early 90’s prior to arrival of the Internet and the power transfer from corporations to consumers, much of the dialogue in brand building had a distinct military flavor to it, with brands seeking to dominate their categories, erect barriers to entry and defend their territory through command-and-control tactics. Vestiges of this thinking still remain, despite the evidence that consumer-to-brand relationship creation has transformed. In this milieu, too often the disciplines of soul nurturing are circumvented by surface level attempts to bolt on shiny imagery and applied marketing lipstick that glosses over a baked in priority for commerce metrics and transactional behaviors over consumer-relevant strategic thinking.

Building, codifying, prioritizing and delivering on the levers of brand soul are indeed vital and essential to sustainable growth in the modern consumer-powered era. People are far more interested in and attracted to your “why” (values, purpose, beliefs) than either what you do or how you do it — no matter how enamored you may be of your superior product mouse trap.

How a brand’s soul gets buried

As virtually every business category grows and matures, an implicit set of rules and boundaries begin to arise, informed by consumer and retail customer expectations, competitive actions, regulatory requirements and industry standards of conduct. These conditions tend to push all category participants towards the middle resulting in comparable product offerings, features, benefits and pricing. Over time this includes growing similarity in business practices, supply chain standards and even manufacturing processes.

The not-to-be-taken-lightly threat that incubates in this environment is the ceaseless, endless and rust-advancing march of commoditization. The condition that compels category players to emphasize scale over other considerations as they pursue efficiency gains, enforce retail leverage and bolster thinning margins.

Commoditization has already taken root in cell phones, computers, hotels, airlines, cars and many food and beverage categories – and in doing so, opportunities for innovative, soul-inspired disruptors are unleashed to move in and gain marketplace traction.

In sum, over time…

  1. Meaningful differentiation can dissipate
  2. Marketing leverage based on budget tonnage in spending eventually starts to post diminishing returns
  3. Brand soul and purpose recedes into the background amidst commoditization pressures
  4. Increasing similarity rules the day among category participants
  5. Businesses begin to focus on price promotion to achieve volume goals

Whole Foods was once a champion of purpose and meaning, its business model informed by advancing the organic movement, education around same and the firm belief foods produced this way ultimately contribute to the improved health, wellbeing and happiness of people and the environment. Since its acquisition by Amazon the belief system has receded, and in its place traditional supermarket merchandising mechanisms like PRIME promotions are driving the brand story.

Meaning and values were at one time the insulation and inoculation for Whole Foods’ higher pricing and the value proposition underneath it. Now the banner faces more competition and pricing pressures because the belief system is no longer the tip of the brand spear. Further the adoption of organic brands and sections within mainstream supermarkets serves to commodify the uniqueness of Whole Foods’ differentiation and so the advantages of its original specialness atrophies.

  • Soul is the engine that drives brand separation and elevation with consumers who actively pursue and are attracted to deeper meaning and values-leaning strategies.

Symbols can tell the tale

Consumers are remarkably adept at reading the room. We immediately understand the cues, signals, icons and images that explain what and who we’re dealing with, where we are, how to behave and what to expect from a brand.

  • What signals is your brand transmitting?
  • Are you sending the right message?
  • Do your values come through in the symbolism you generously (or not) display through every point of consumer contact?

Brands informed by their soul are always focused on fulfilling consumer need, dreams, expectations, desires and growth. They are also unafraid to express views on societal issues that consumers care about such as sustainability, environmental responsibility and the wellbeing of disadvantaged people.

Soul signals and consumer-centricity

Brand soul and higher purpose tends to fall from a deep understanding and preoccupation with supporting consumers on their life journey. This manifests from genuine care and consideration for their welfare and personal growth while also helping people realize their hopes and dreams.

It is in those dreams and aspirations that we find an emotional anchor for storytelling that moves people to embrace and join your brand ecosystem. Every human, every day wishes for progress and improvement. Are you actively helping them on their journey to grow?

From:

Unhealthy to healthy

Good to great

Weak to strong

Lonely to popular

Confused to wise

Invisible to recognized

Novice to expert

Poor to secure

Plain to fashionable

Make no mistake, to be human is to be emotional. However, brands without a soul-led code of conduct tend to talk endlessly about themselves and product features rather than enablement and celebration of consumer passions. In doing so the brand story is likely to be fact-dense and analytical, despite the reems of research confirming people won’t burn the mental calories to decipher that kind of messaging. People simply are just not fact-based, analytical decision-making machines.

How do you know if you’re succeeding? When consumers can state with clarity what your brand stands for, its meaning and purpose.

A powerful tool at your disposal: surprise and delight

Do the unexpected. In his book Unreasonable Hospitality, restaurateur and author Will Guidara tells the tale of a table of New York City visitors who were overheard saying they were disappointed that the following day they were leaving the city without ever having sampled a hot dog from one of the many carts that line the streets of Manhattan.

Mind you his restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, is one of the finest, most elite culinary palaces in New York. His team sprang into action sending a runner to track down hot dogs at a cart. They were ferried back to the kitchen where the chef arranged an artful hot dog presentation. The diners were blown away that the restaurant would do this without a word ever being spoken to staff about their hot dog curiosity. It was the restaurant’s soulful belief in unreasonable hospitality that brought the surprise to life.

Have you ever been to Harrod’s department store in London? If so, have you shopped in their over-the-top food hall? Harrod’s isn’t a supermarket mind you but thy indeed sell fresh and packaged foods. Their fresh fish displays are legendary for their artistry and creative arrangement of fresh fish choices.

Of course, any grocery store with vision and applied talent could do the same thing, with the goal of making their store talked about and Instagram worthy. Yet nothing of the sort happens past the layers of crushed ice surrounding rows of whatever fish is on feature.

Surprise and delight are a choice. It is a strategy. It recognizes the very human preference for artistry and empathy.  Stores and brands with a clearly curated and developed soul are more likely to find this path and exploit it than those that don’t and who are more comfortable staying within the category accepted norms of behavior.

  • When you’re willing to be a disruptive player you have a chance to alter the paradigm of what consumers think you are about and engineer a new and more engaging perception of your brand.

If this article has you thinking about how this could be brought to life in your business, it’s important to note you will need outside experts to help you work through the right mix of tools and messages. Use the link below to start a conversation with our team of brand soul experts.

Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Narrowcasting to the most relevant and engaged audience

Brand Strength in Fewer Numbers

January 23rd, 2024 Posted by brand advocacy, brand messaging, Brand preference, Consumer insight, Emotional relevance, Social community, Social media, storytelling 0 comments on “Brand Strength in Fewer Numbers”

Narrowcasting to fans, followers and advocates…

If you look under the hood of a strong brand with a demonstrated higher purpose, belief system and investment in social community building, you will find a percolating audience of consumer ambassadors and believers. A symbiotic relationship exists here as the brand invests in them and they reciprocate with support as frequent users and evangelists often via word-of-mouth. All of this, mind you, can be strategic and intentional, even when the manifestations appear to be organic.

An outcome of the digital age, we find greater efficacy in narrower channels of media that cater to special interests and topics resonating to the hearts and minds of the brand’s most devoted followers. In many cases this also attests to the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of profits come from 20 percent of a brand’s most ardent followers and users. This happens repeatedly.

  • So we pose the question: how does this play out in earned media strategy? It’s a fair question because earned media outreach is often devoted to a long-standing tool of the mass media era, the venerable press release, its distribution usually a shotgun affair that goes in every direction.

Narrowcast vs. broadcast

Name the category where strong brands exist and you’ll find media resonant to core lifestyle interests and passions of a brand’s most frequent users. It is here where the truly gifted earned media artists devote time and energy to building relationships with editors and contributors – those who populate these influential media channels with engaging content.

Earned media isn’t transactional, at least not most of the time. The path to outcomes in this setting are negotiated through interaction and conversation between people. The communications experts from the brand side are packaging and presenting relevant story background ideas/material to discuss with reporters whose areas of focus closely matches the topics of interest for a brand’s best users.

The entire proposition is driven by mutual respect, credibility, service to the reader, editorial sensibility and well-researched supporting material, reports and sources who form the alchemy of any solid feature story treatment. The paradigm is fueled through mutual interest and effort over time to build a solid, reliable relationship between source and scribe. It’s definitely not “spray and pray” as press releases can be referred to in wire service distribution terms.

  • Our point: there’s more to be gained in narrowcasting earned media strategies to specific channels where special interests are served, and this is territory where media relationships are nurtured over time. Reporters tend to go back to reliable sources.

The ladder: vertical to national

Ask any brand executive and you’ll get feedback that national bluechip media coverage is always a desirable outcome from elite media brands like the New York Times, Bloomberg, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal or network TV news. Vertical media often get the short sheet in this conversation, but they shouldn’t. Category trade media plays a vital, vibrant role not only between a brand and its key stakeholder audiences of distributors and retailers, it’s also a proving ground for larger story ideas.

Trade coverage that touches on a core editorial idea relevant to larger national media is an immediate credibility booster to the story efficacy and dimensions in a non-competitive setting. This comprises a circular editorial eco-system where coverage in trades is useful in conversations with national media. While national coverage tends to drive incremental stories in vertical channels. Both are good, solid, strategic components of a strong earned media plan.

  • Both indeed are driven by relationships, creativity and solid performances by brand PR experts who know their results depend on fulfilling the promises in a good working relationship with key editors, reporters and producers.

If this stimulates some questions about optimal editorial media strategies or similar situations you wrestle with, use the link below to open an informal dialogue.

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

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

Brand differentiation is better than being better

Leveraging “Better” is a Trap

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

Don’t play in someone else’s sandbox

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stronger brands always focus on being unique, not better

Strategic brands say and do things differently

They hew a unique tone

They often carve a controversial path

They see the future through a different lens

They operate with a belief system

The belief is the benefit

Great brands are always founded on beliefs

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

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

Following the path to different

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

1. Create a new category

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

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

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

2. Move from product utility to lifestyle association

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

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

3. Change the story focus

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

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

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

4. Change the reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Andrea Coffman validates Champion brand promise

Third-Party Experts Drive Brand Trust

June 16th, 2023 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, Differentiation, editorial relevance, Influencers, Insight, media relations, media strategy 0 comments on “Third-Party Experts Drive Brand Trust”

The influential role of respected voices in building credibility

Risk-averse consumers now look to brands to provide credible validation and verification of the promises they make and assertions about product performance and benefits.

No surprise brand trust is at an all-time low among consumers, and also at an all-time high as a front-end requirement for any authentic relationship between consumers and the brands that matter to them. Trust is elusive, hard to win and has a short shelf life. It stands to reason why trust should be a critical fixture in the brand go-to-market strategy. Goes without saying, trust cannot be invoked or claimed, it must be earned through tangible actions.

Strategic deployment of respected and credible voices

Repeatedly Emergent has found significant benefits for client brands and their trust equity when we involve outside, respected, trusted third-party experts to help bring added credibility to messaging, media and content. Here are some remarkable examples of this in action.

Exposing the presence of fake Italian cheese

I was seated in a small conference room next to Neil Schuman’s office at Schuman Cheese corporate headquarters in Fairfield, NJ – there at Neil’s request to discuss a shocking revelation about the U.S. Italian cheese category. It’s important to note Schuman’s father invented the U.S. Italian cheese industry in the late 1940’s and since then this family-owned company has grown to be, by far, the dominant market share leader in the business.

Neil guided me through a thorough and vexing download on the presence of fake, mislabeled, fraudulent and adulterated Italian cheese in the category his company created. As category captain, Schuman believed his organization had a responsibility to shore up the integrity of the business, but was frustrated at every turn by intractable industry practices that worked to solidify the hold of adulterated cheese makers. For 10 years he had attempted to rid the category of these shameful practices but to no avail, so he turned to us for help.

I explained there would be no way to carve out the cancer of mislabeling practices without serious leverage that created risks for the companies, about 10 of them, which were doing it. I talked at length about the power of a media spotlight shined on this dark practice, as a path to creating substantial risks for those involved. If enough retail buyers were concerned by “outing” the fake products on shelves, then and only then, would buyers shut down the purveyors of cheap, adulterated versions of favored Italian stalwarts like the King of Cheeses, Parmesan.

This couldn’t be a trickle of attention. It meant a big investigative story on a global platform reaching a wide audience. To get there, a fact-based, well-researched case had to be presented in a highly credible way.

We launched an Italian cheese industry integrity tour in Wisconsin, the center of the nation’s cheese industry, to bring in the validation of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association, the state Dept. of Agriculture, food science experts and others to form a coalition of third-party voices who could lend their perspective on why the presence of adulterated products was bad for consumers and bad for the industry.

We broke the first fake cheese story in the Milwaukee Journal business section, and then moved it to industry verticals for their reinforcement of the Italian cheese category blight. That portfolio of intense and consistent coverage was repurposed to support a credible conversation with Bloomberg News about launching an investigation of fake cheese conditions and the impact on unknowing consumers.

Bloomberg agreed on the merits and conducted an independent study and test that corroborated the presence of fake products on grocery shelves. When their story broke, we moved it to Buzzfeed and from there syndication touched off a global media tsunami about the presence of mislabeled, adulterated cheese. The outcome was abrupt – with retailers turning away from those making cheap knockoffs. Critical to success of the media strategy was the trusted, respected voices of third-party expert sources who validated and substantiated the story premise.

Helping re-position a restaurant chain from smoothie shop to healthy lifestyle brand

Jamba Juice invented the fruit smoothie restaurant business at scale. Due to the emphasis on real fruit ingredients the chain enjoyed a form of healthy halo. However, truth be told some of the recipes were steeped in sugars and the nutritionals were hardly a hallmark of truly healthy beverages.

After providing an analysis of shifting consumer trends towards healthy living, we convened the leadership team to reimagine a different course for Jamba. Our mission to help the brand re-position itself as a healthy lifestyle choice, with a new slate of better-for-you products around a new story of nutritional contributions from fruit, veg and added protein ingredients. This was as much a cultural shift for the company internally as it was a refashioning of their brand position, menu board and brand voice.

We went to work identifying and recruiting a team of the most respected outside, third-party experts in the nutrition and dietitian community, to join the Jamba Healthy Living Council as both advisors to the organization on product reformulation, and also creating content and communication that positioned the brand as a coach and guide on healthy living best practices.

The team also conducted workshops internally to help key headquarters staff fully understand and appreciate the value proposition for change and improvement through a move to embrace healthy living. The Council was also engaged to help the company navigate to a new channel, providing secondary school foodservice operators with a menu of better-for-you beverages. The drinks envisioned would be a tasty, kid-friendly vehicle for delivering mandated daily serving of fruits and vegetables in a form young people loved. It was a strategy to burnish brand reputation while helping develop the next generation of Jamba customers.

The Healthy Living Council members participated in online video creation, editorial media, social channel content and other platforms including conventions to spread the news of change and healthy product bona fides now taking root at Jamba – a remarkable transition for a company intent on creating a new future for itself based on higher purpose and deeper meaning.

Bringing transparency to the pet food industry

Pet food can be a mysterious journey for consumers with the constant drumbeat of imagery invoking steaks, beautiful salmon filets and whole chickens on product packaging. The marketing implies that a small brown nugget is in fact a stand-in for the same proteins people consume at the family dinner table. However, how pet food is actually made and the ingredients sourced have, for the most part, remained obscure behind the factory curtain.

Champion Petfoods, makers of the superpremium Orijin and ACANA brands, was unique by virtue of its long-standing commitment to source proteins from local farms and fisheries within driving distance of its kitchens. Champion in fact used fresh and frozen meat or fish in its formulations and claimed such on its packaging.

We felt this story was under-leveraged in an environment of growing consumer interest in transparency. We believed this could be leveraged in a proprietary way for Champion. Working with their marketing team, we created the Champion Transparency Council. The Council was designed as a consortium of outside respected voices in the Veterinary community along with real pet-owning brand fans who were also knowledgeable about pet nutrition.

The Council members were given full access to Champion’s U.S. manufacturing facility to see and witness every aspect of pet food creation from ingredient intake to package filling. Additionally, Council members toured the nearby farms and met with the farmers and ranchers who raised or fished the proteins used in Champion’s recipes. Indeed, they even went fishing to secure the catch that would later go into the pet food.

  • We asked them to create content and report on what they had witnessed, without filter or interference from Champion. The goal: an honest, eyes-open transparent assessment from their observations. The candid reports on the company’s practices and operations provided personal validation of Champion’s claims in real-life, tangible terms.

We facilitated interviews across the spectrum of relevant pet media to give Council members a forum for sharing what they had seen and heard. They were featured speakers at Champion’s trade show activations. Social channel content based on their observations was produced and amplified. The Transparency Council became a dominant voice in pet business trade media extolling the commitment to full transparency in an industry with a decided lack of that form of candor and openness.

Proof, verification and validation of promises distinguished Champion among consumers and retailers as a truthful, mission-based company in a category where quality claims go mostly unsubstantiated.

The role of third-party experts in brand communication

You want consumers to trust you, to believe you, to accept the assertions you make. Yet the world at large works against this with near daily reports of obfuscation, half-truths, misstatements, recalls, and outright lying that demonstrate some businesses’ lack a moral high ground and customer-first ethos.

In this uncertain environment with entrenched skepticism, strategy demands a conscious drive to create trust. Trust is earned not claimed. The role of outside expert voices works on two levels:

  • To observe and validate what you want people to know about how you do what you do.
  • To provide guidance, coaching and education to consumers on their journey to betterment and self-improvement from those with the respected bona fides to offer credible, useful help.

This is equally powerful in the earned media arena as a quote-able source engine for top level press which, on larger stories, must check the veracity of story details and scope with knowledgeable experts.

Are you intrigued by how this approach might elevate and enhance your brand’s reputation and credibility? If so, use this link to ask questions. We’re happy to provide perspective on how this strategy can be successfully deployed to earn greater trust 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.

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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