Posts tagged "consumer behavior"

Ideas that catch fire

Digging Into the Psychology of Contagious Communication

October 3rd, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand marketing, brand strategy, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Marketing Strategy, media strategy, storytelling 0 comments on “Digging Into the Psychology of Contagious Communication”

How to harness the science of social transmission

“People do not buy goods or services, they buy relations, stories and magic.”

                                                                                                                                           – Seth Godin

  • Today we will weigh in on vital tools and ideas that can vastly improve the outcome of your marketing investments.
  • For the very reason these tools and ideas access what we know about how people share information and recommendations with each other.

If there is one important, recurring theme in the guidance we provide at the Emerging Trends Report, it is our respect for the consumer we are working mightily to reach and engage. Too often, marketing activity is focused slavishly on firing up the latest social platform or digital tool.  Preoccupation with algorithms wrongly assumes simple deployment of the tech guarantees engagement. Nope. It’s just not happening.

So many benefits can be gleaned and extracted through greater understanding and appreciation of human behavior – and how these insights can be deployed for profound impact on consumer engagement and successful outreach results. Buckle up. Here we go.

The painful lesson…

  • Sorry, but most advertising just isn’t credible. If it walks, talks and behaves like traditional advertising – it is inherently untrustworthy to wary consumers.
  • If anything, ads are predictable in form and function, signaling it’s time to tune out, move on. Repetition doesn’t help, it just intensifies the annoying interruptions.
  • People increasingly refuse to tolerate advertising interruptions (hello streaming). Blatant brand self-promotion rarely resonates with consumers because the hero of the outreach is the brand focused on itself, not the consumer’s relevant journey.

It’s like that guy at the cocktail party who intrusively humble-brags about his career achievements. He cares little about his ‘audience’ beyond the attention he seeks. Meanwhile, we can’t wait to move on to something more interesting and maybe even useful.

What is actually sticky?

So much noise, so little time. How much of that messaging cacophony actually sticks with consumers?

Instead people are magically drawn to “remarkableness” – or what is:

Extraordinary

Novel

Exceptional

Unusual

Captivating,

Surprising

Helpful

Inspiring

When we build a marketing plan, we’re working to break the patterns of convention, disrupt the expected, violate the norm…why? When we’re able to get people to care, not only will they tune in to the message – they will share.

As marketers we work overtime to mint social currency around and within the product itself, how it is packaged and served up, the experiences we create and the stories we tell. This is ultimately showing appreciation for how and when people will transmit information to others.

Case in point: pressing the symbolism button

All purchases today are ultimately symbolic gestures; visible flags of what people want others to believe about their values, beliefs, priorities and status. How can we best employ symbols and markers of what consumers want others to see? What social currency flags can we help them visibly wave? To help them be…

In the know

Forward thinking

Sustainable

Successful

Caring

Informed

Resourceful

Exceptional

The desire for social resonance and approval is a fundamental human motivation. We can intentionally create ways for people to make themselves look good. We can help them feel like VIPs or insiders (exclusivity and scarcity). Everyone is a status seeker thus anything that elevates their position in front of others delivers social currency while creating talk value.

When people share extraordinary and entertaining stories it makes them appear to be extraordinary and entertaining.

The heart of it: emotion

Sustainability, global warming and climate threat represent compelling sources of competitive advantage and behavior change. Want people to do something about it? There’s a great temptation to point out how big the problem is and wallpaper messaging outreach with an unrelenting flow of statistics and factual evidence. When you want people to care about an issue, to weigh in, to do something, to share, emotion is going to be the primary lever.

Talk about how their children’s future, wellbeing, health and welfare could be impacted by runaway climate change. When you engage people in stories that hit home at the heart level – the most important human relationships we treasure for example, then we are engaging the subconscious side of the brain head on – the part of us that controls our actions.

Candidly, people don’t want to be told something. They want to be moved or entertained.

Observation delivers imitation

Social influence is enhanced when your product experience is more observable. Public visibility will boost talk value and sharing. Anything that is visible can engage the power of popularity and creates opportunities for imitation. If people can’t SEE what others are doing, they can’t imitate that behavior.

As marketers we’re looking for ways to take the product functionality or experience that is mostly unobservable and make it visible. That visibility will feed word of mouth. If it’s designed for show, it will likely grow.

Useful is powerful

People love to be helpful to others, to be a source of practical advice that improves experiences or makes life easier. When brands become enablers of guidance and coaching, another avenue is opened for social exchange. Simply put, people like to pass along useful tips, ideas and information to their peers. Creating a tellable tale around information of practical value is a sure path to contagious communication.

Look for ways to create news they can use.

Remarkable-ness will disrupt

If we hear the phrase “no frills airline” an image quickly begins to form of cramped seating, no food and the absence of any in-cabin entertainment. This bears out in reality as many “flying bus” experiences confirm the paradigm.

What happens when a discount carrier provides generous seating, good food options and in-flight entertainment – the shift immediately engages and disrupts the expectation. An opportunity to be remarkable is a game-changing moment that creates strong pathways to social exchange and transmission of extraordinary experiences.

How can you violate the standard rules of your category to deliver the exceptional and unexpected?

Activating the power of awe

When you see a breathtaking landscape, how do you feel? When you observe extraordinary human feats of daring, discovery or human kindness, it most likely moves you. Human inspiration is an endless treasure trove of share-able opportunities.

People desperately want to be part of something greater than themselves, to acquire purpose and value from being involved in a movement. The primary benefit of higher purpose marketing is the purpose itself.

Done with strategic thought and passion, we gain access to moments of wonder, excitement and strength. Awe is a powerful tool that triggers and motivates action. In short, engaging our sense of wonder is a sure path to share-able adventures.

Employing the magic of humanity

Frankly we could keep going because there are so many opportunities to take advantage of how people think and operate to jump over the stasis of self-centered, introspective marketing that fails to excite.

  • The common ground in this thinking is how we turn consumers into walking, talking billboards because they’re driven to share what they’ve experienced or learned. We don’t do business in a world of classic persuasion any longer. Our ability to engage people occurs in direct proportion to how relevant we can make our communication to them, how they think, how they operate and live.

When this happens, magic happens – and that’s what people want.

If this stimulates interest on how the approach might apply to your brand and business, use this link to start an informal conversation. No expectations other than a robust conversation about people, how they behave, and your goals.

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 Bob@Emergent-Comm.com 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 Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Digital romance required to engage consumers online

Get consumer digital romance right or risk being left at the altar

February 18th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Content Marketing, Emotional relevance, engagement, Social media, Social proof, storytelling 0 comments on “Get consumer digital romance right or risk being left at the altar”

You have a short time to earn trust

“Trust Creation is a leading, modern brand communication strategy intentionally designed to build credibility and authenticity. How Trust Creation is translated in the digital experience is one of the greatest challenges of our era.” – Emergent

According to McKinsey, during the first 90 days of the Pandemic more products were sold online than in the previous decade. In short order, consumer adoption of e-commerce and online engagement has accelerated past the tipping point and likely will never go back. Google forecasts by 2024 – just two years from now – 60% of all global spending will be digital.

Therefore, it is likely the first point of contact for any new consumer getting acquainted with your brand will be online, and it will be fast. You just never get a second chance to make a first impression.

  • Thus, your digital challenge: how do you get a perfect stranger to commit to a relationship with your brand online when you know risk and loss aversion is a universal human barrier to overcome?

It goes without saying, brands that get digital romance right will succeed (yes, it is romance by the way). Those that don’t get it right will risk losing the scarcest resource of all on our planet: consumer attention.

  • “The consumer experience is rapidly evolving from one built upon the transactional process of in-store shopping to one that is rooted in deep, ongoing and enriching relationships.” – Harvard Business Review.

Romance is all about values, trust, purpose, emotion and deeper meaning.

So now what?

The secret to a successful digital relationship is…?

We know consumers 100 percent of the time are focused on avoiding a bad decision and the regret that accompanies it. They are more concerned about loss and unsatisfactory outcomes than a perceived gain. What they require is trust and certainty. How will you deliver it?

The most important move you can make is to inject humanity into the online experience you create. Why? Because relating to a brand is now fundamentally the same thing as relating to a person. The future of healthy brand relationship in the digital space will be built on a foundation of admiration and trust.

Your digital experience must avoid being:

  1. Overly transactional – Myopically focused on selling things at the expense of lifestyle relevance and non-product related usefulness
  2. Technology focused on your ‘better mouse trap’ – Asking people to burn mental calories on complex tech messaging never works
  3. Self-reverential – It’s about the consumer and not self-promotion. They should be the heroes of your narrative (Read that again.)
  4. Analytical – People are feeling creatures who think and not thinking creatures who feel

Instead, lean into emotion, celebrating the consumer as hero of your storytelling. When they see themselves in your content, it’s like holding up a mirror – a reflection of themselves and their interests. Now you have their attention. When it’s all about you, the brand is competing with customers for the hero role in your narrative. Bad idea.

The humanization of digital brand experiences

When you meet someone for the first time and a connection quickly forms, what’s going on there? People see early signs of: Laser-like interest in them and their needs, similarity, common values and genuine care. People pick up quickly on these attributes and signals.

What is it about the people we are drawn to and like? For the most part it stems from like-minded souls who actively show an interest in us, who we believe authentically care about us, and who can add value to our lives. Can a brand behave this way?

  • Or are brands handcuffed to the hard sell, unable to adapt and adopt more human-like behaviors such as care and empathy?

You understand now the consumer is likely to engage with your business online – a behavior that is only going to accelerate – thus leaving you with a short amount of time (the zero moment of truth) to gain their trust and belief.  We know people already seek to avoid loss and disappointment so what can you do to bypass risk and earn a relationship?

No matter the product you’re selling – be it cheese, pet food, shoes, cosmetics, software or beer – you are obligated to author conditions that will encourage personal connection and engagement. Your goal is to adopt the whole pantheon of respected, cherished human behaviors that we anticipate and expect from people we know and trust.

This is why your digital experience should be built around these Eight Characteristics of a Humanized Brand.

How will you amplify, facilitate and enable:

  1. Trust – reliability
  2. Integrity – honesty
  3. Conversation – dialogue
  4. Guidance – usefulness
  5. Shared experiences – common aspirations
  6. Reciprocity – unselfishness and being considerate of them
  7. Empathy – focus on them
  8. Shared values – ethos and moral character

Think about it –

  • Do any of us enjoy encountering the one-dimensional salesperson who is “always closing” and whose motives we suspect are not operating with our best interests at heart?
  • Do we gain much beyond the exchange of features and price if the only conversation we’re having online is product driven?
  • When consumers are looking for coaches and guides to help them fulfill their aspirations and lifestyle needs, is your brand answering the call?
  • Is your web site a fun and engaging place to visit and learn, get inspired and take away tools that help improve people’s lives?
  • Is your web experience a true mirror of your best customers’ lifestyle interests and passions?

Earning trust and respect begins with making the audience’s welfare and wellbeing an unselfish priority – this is how you earn the opportunity to engage on products and services. You just don’t lead with the hard sell if you expect to gain confidence and overcome the powerful motivation to avoid risk at all times.

Your web site shouldn’t be merely a digital brochure. It can’t be just an e-commerce transaction platform. A web site that is three-miles-wide and half inch deep focused on self-promotion with just a smattering of usefulness to navigating life’s complexities here and there isn’t going to achieve digital romance.

You have an enormous opportunity to break the conventions and traditions of selling and become a coach to customers who long for advice, ideas and inspiration. It may feel counterintuitive to be focused on customers beyond your own product story, but this reorientation is necessary when you know the consumer is now in total control of the brand relationship. Brands no longer dictate terms and can’t command engagement.

Here’s the litmus test:

Does your web experience deliver:

  • Emotional connection?
  • Learning?
  • Inspiration?
  • Entertainment?
  • Community and sharing?

Your brand will benefit by looking beyond self-interest to see the requirement for trust creation and to embrace the humanity it takes to get there. Knowing that digital engagement will be dominant for people, it’s time now to conduct an audit of the entire web experience to look for opportunities to refine your brand’s higher purpose, mission, content and experience – to better align with your consumers’ needs.

Want to have a deeper relationship with your customers, then imbue your online brand experience with deeper meaning. We can help you think through the challenges of relevance and resonance, humanization of your story, content and visual assets. This could be the most important conversation you have in 2022.

Use this link to say ‘hello’ and let’s get acquainted.

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

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

The psychology of risk

Is the Psychology of Risk Factored Into Your Marketing?

February 3rd, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Brand trust, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Higher Purpose, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “Is the Psychology of Risk Factored Into Your Marketing?”

Your customers are not analytical decision-making machines

When consumers approach a purchase decision, are they focused on the merits and benefits of what you’re offering? Research on human behavior confirms that other issues are dominating their judgements. Read on to find out what’s really happening.

  • You might agree marketing and business strategy that is informed with a clear understanding of the human being you want to reach is going to be massively more effective than efforts that don’t take into consideration what we now know about how people make choices.

Ground-breaking behavioral research conducted over decades by renowned psychologists Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman on their Theory of Regret, forever altered the false assumption that humans are rational and analytical – making decisions based on objective consideration of the facts.

Today we will unravel the mysteries of how people behave to provide you with clear guidance on what the customer is actually thinking and doing.

People will pay a premium to avoid – wait for it – regret

According to scientific research, consumers’ 99.99999 percent of the time are working to sidestep making bad choices. Tversky and Kahneman’s analysis of choice decisions demonstrated that people focus on minimizing risk in order to reduce the chances of any regret. Said another way, people are not seeking to maximize benefits, instead they are trying to prevent or duck an unfavorable outcome. Boom.

  • Most marketing activity is based on presenting gains, wins, benefits to an audience pre-occupied with trying to determine if what’s on offer is a gamble (path to potential regret) or a sure thing.

Kahneman expressed regret theory in real-world terms this way: The nearer you get to achievement, the greater the regret people encounter if you fail to achieve it. The more control you believe you have over a gamble, the greater the regret experienced if it turns out badly.

People reflexively face regret for:

  • What they have chosen
  • What they wish they hadn’t chosen
  • What they should have chosen

What’s truly operating on the path to a purchase decision can be observed in any hesitation or reluctance (abandoned cart) to take an action. How the consumer is looking at the options before them follows their attempt to determine –

  • What is a sure thing
  • What is a probable gain
  • What is actually a gamble in order to secure a gain

When choosing between a sure thing and a perceived gamble, a person’s desire to elude loss exceeds the desire to secure a gain!!

Not surprising, people will pay handsomely for certainty. They will take the sure thing over the perceived dice roll every time. Thus, the power and impact of a well-defined brand with deep equity, trust and a strong value proposition.

So what exactly is this loss people seek to avoid?

A loss occurs when a person believes they’ve ended up worse off than their reference point. A reference point is a state of mind based on the status quo, or a standard defined from where they started. Please note, a gain or loss will always be connected to how a problem is presented. Changing the description of a situation can make a gain seem like a loss and vice versa.

Implications to marketing planning and strategy

A consumer world balanced on the pin of regret avoidance is a cry for certainty, surety, belief, trust and confidence.

  • What risk reduction tools are you using to erase loss while canceling potential regret?

It’s important to proactively manage the conditions, language and perceptions that influence consumer belief.  You want to erase uncertainty and the possibility of a bad outcome.

Where to start?

Descriptions – Language matters, how a problem or situation is framed can help or hinder the assessment a customer is inevitably making about certainty and risk avoidance.

Social proof – Consumers find claims of performance and outcome made by companies to be less trustworthy. They will believe their peers before they will believe you. Thus, social channels that behave more like communities where sharing is encouraged, perform the valuable service of offering assurance that what is promised is indeed consistently delivered.

Familiarity – If you’re working on the next great leap in food technology beware of pushing the science wizardry too hard instead of focusing on the more familiar, comfortable and assurance-building principles of food, nutrition and culinary cred for a product consumers will put in their bodies. People are wary of anything that appears to be too far away from the familiar territory of foods they understand and believe are real, safe as well as satisfying (taste).

Transparency – The more you disclose about how you do what you do, the more comfortable people get. This feeds the certainty of knowing exactly what’s in the product you make and where ingredients came from, while also speaking to integrity and honesty – two qualities people believe are sorely lacking in business behaviors.

Third party validation – Most product categories have identifiable subject matter experts and influential voices that bring credibility and cachet to the messaging table. If you turn them into promotional shills, their value is lost. Let the expert voices make independent evaluations of what you do and how you do it. Give them room to report on their observations and let the credibility flow from a respected voice that isn’t your own.

Verifiable assurance – For a cheese client experiencing a high degree of adulteration and food fraud in their category, we created a trust mark backed by one of the most respected food labs in the nation. They were given free rein to acquire products at retail independently and submit them to a battery of tests that verified the veracity of how the products were made when compared to the Federal standard of identity. It was proof the products were genuine, authentic, real and what was represented on the label was indeed accurate and truthful. Trust marks and third-party validation can bring another level of consumer confidence to the story being told.

Now you are aware that this universal human trait of risk avoidance is a dominant consideration for people on the path to purchase. Your objective, then, is to work accordingly to secure confidence, trust and belief in a manner that reduces or eliminates any perception of risk or uncertainty that might fuel consumer regret.

  • Do this, and you will answer what most often lies at the foundation of a disconnect for people who are unwilling to try your new product or store. Why? Because they see risk of a bad outcome if they don’t like it or concern it won’t deliver on their reference standard expectations.

Is it time to audit your marketing plans and messaging strategies to ensure the psychology of risk is fully addressed? If so, use this link to invite an informal conversation with a team of experts who understand the anatomy of trust creation.

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 Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Culinary inspiration should influence food retail strategies

Putting Food Inspiration at the Center of Your Value Proposition

January 12th, 2022 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, consumer behavior, Consumer insight, Culinary inspiration, Culinary lifestyle, Customer Experience, Emotional relevance, engagement, food experiences, food retail strategy, Marketing Strategy, retail brand relevance, shopper behavior, shopper experience, Strategic Planning, Supermarket strategy 0 comments on “Putting Food Inspiration at the Center of Your Value Proposition”

Can a food retailer fall in love with food?

From one grocery store to another, aside from the convenient location it occupies, what elevates one over the other? Not much really. Differentiation is often in marginal territory….

  • Products assortments are similar.
  • Aisle configuration runs the same direction.
  • The perimeter features fresh items.
  • The packaged products anchor the center store shelves.
  • The checkout is a line.
  • Items on sale will exist in most departments.
  • The ice bag locker is near the entrance.

Some stores may feature fancier lighting or shinier floors but for the most part if you’ve been in one supermarket in Maine, the same experience will be had in Minnesota or Maryland. There are a few exceptions to format like Trader Joe’s that turns the frozen department into a singular art form. Dorothy Lane owns its Killer Brownies. Publix and Costco lead with great reputations. Wegmans delights with service-minded staff. H-E-B in Texas stands above with its highly curated Central Market banner and Midwest shoppers frequently laud HyVee. Sure, the Northeast’s Stew Leonard stores step ahead with grocery-as-theater.

Even at the high end such as Whole Foods or Plum Market, while the shelves feature more boutique brands and the prices to match the artisanal, locally sourced claims – everything remains strikingly familiar.

But what could happen if a grocery retailer were to fall in love with food?

What if food retail was a culinary adventure, an inspirational tour more than just an organized maze of boxes, cans and bags? Ultimately, the business end of food for shoppers would be a better dish, an adventurous menu, and an extraordinary eating experience. Yet a peek inside the prepared foods case of most supermarkets is a study in over-heated rotisserie chicken and meatloaf belly-pleasers. Maybe a Sushi bar here and there but not many are really blowing up the concept for a delight-to-the-senses food experience.

The Internet and food delivery apps already democratize access to restaurant quality cooking. Great chefy meals can be had in 30 to 40 minutes. How can a food retailer successfully disrupt a ‘been there and done that’ shopping paradigm to create memorable and engaging food and shopping experiences? Is it possible to transcend the point-and-click convenience of restaurants coming to the front door?

Well, get ‘em inside your front door!  Food is sensory. It is emotional. It could be a feast for the eyes, the heart and soul. An inspiration for the home cook. A place of learning and creativity. A tour of global flavors and cuisines. A culinary Disneyland with one theme leading to another.

  • Our hypothesis is this: you can’t really deliver food inspiration if you don’t have a passion for culinary experience powered by a visceral appreciation for the magic of food and great cooking (plus adjacent standards that demand improved output from the commissary).

What meal solutions would be located near other menu options if you loved culinary adventure and were determined to help customers elevate their food experiences? People mostly shop for dinner these days. How can you help them with that objective (and we’re thinking way past the roasted birds)? Saucing is a simple maneuver that can elevate just about anything on a dinner plate – who is making that small wonder happen?

Vegetables are a constant drumbeat of nutritional guilting but remain red-headed stepchildren in the pantry because of the absence of inspired preparations (think Asian options) and the transformative flavor punch of roasting over steaming.

  • Whatever the culinary muse might be and how stores could be organized differently, it just won’t happen if the executive team doesn’t start with culinary enthusiasm holding court ahead of singular devotion to SKU velocity considerations.

Let the big boxes have their 30 linear feet of cheap tissue and towels. You are too busy whipping up magic in flavor-forward finished dishes or partially prepared global menus. You’ve already dialed in the wine pairing or created an entire plant-based feast. Organizing shopping by menus or need states or cuisine varieties and thinking like a home cook to layer flavors from one department to another.  You know about the current menu burnout epidemic and thus refresh the ‘what’s for dinner’ quandary with creative easy-to-follow meal ideas and curated shopping lists.

Many will interject this just isn’t possible based on the razor thin margins of food retailing that demand fealty to carts speedily navigating the aisles with belief everyone needs to get in and out as fast as possible. Maybe the desire to get in one door and out the other quickly is fed by no real delight to be found in the whole store experience. Is the only emotional win we’re willing to serve up a grass-fed New York strip at $12.99 a pound?

Evidence of Innovation

Grocery icon Bob Mariano and his talented gustatorial co-conspirators Don Fitzgerald and Jay Owen could rightly be accused of putting culinary considerations at the center of a fascinating play on re-imagined grocery. Their Dom’s Kitchen and Market store now operating in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood is a totem to unabashed borrowing of aligned culinary brand equity by featuring Bonci pizzas, Tortello fresh pasts and Meats by Linz. You go there, you want to stay there. It’s a feast for the senses. Dom’s is really a series of innovative kitchens and menus surrounded by well thought out unique packaged food selections. What fun!

Kevin Coupe, in his epiphanous Morning Newsbeat e-newsletter reports even the largest of grocery chains, Kroger, is experimenting in their Ralph’s banner near the UCLA campus in Los Angeles with a Kitchen United collaboration. Ten restaurant brands and menus can be accessed for in-store pick-up or delivery through a ghost kitchen integration that hits a college crowd pleasing tour-de-force of prepared food options. Think of fried chicken sandwiches and Ramen bowls, sushi, pizzas garnished with a heavy nod to all of the Impossible and Beyond products that replicate a meat lovers’ greatest hits. Relevant to the trading area for sure.

All of this challenges the definition of what a food retail store could be if the owners were in love with the outcome of what they sell. When passion for food and eating experiences influences the merchandising and business decisions, there just might be an opportunity to achieve transcendence. That is a shopping experience so differentiated and meaningful the home cook runs around the store exclaiming, “you get me, you really get me!”

Food adventure springs from the heart. A store can only live and breathe the devotion to food experiences when the executive team starts there themselves. The opportunity is this: create a food shopping experience so remarkable it generates talk value, social discourse, endorsement and excitement from those so awe struck that a food store might romance the actual food.

  • What’s the key to competitive advantage in a world that operates in opposition to retail visits? A shopping experience you want to keep coming back to, and not just because there’s a two for one deal on a box of Cheerios.

If creative inspiration and communication of same is what you seek, use this link to open an informal conversation with a team of marketers who love food as much as you do.

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 Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

Meat agriculture impacts on pet brand sustainability

Which Pet Brand Will Emerge as the Sustainability Leader?

December 9th, 2021 Posted by brand messaging, Brand preference, brand strategy, Carbon footprint, Climate Change, climate culture, consumer behavior, Differentiation, Greenhouse Gas, Greenwashing, Navigation, Sustainability 0 comments on “Which Pet Brand Will Emerge as the Sustainability Leader?”

The one that knows the secret to sustainability success…

The stakes in 2022 are high. The marketplace victory could be substantial. Who will win the sustainability derby and emerge as the pet category leader in environmental readiness?

Never before has so much been at stake so quickly as consumer culture change pushes sustainability to the front as a core driver of marketplace competitive advantage. This is a tougher hill to climb because it’s not about legacy advantages such as company size or distribution or ingredient quality. The outcome may bring a new cadre of progressive brands that gain incremental market share while the deniers and laggards face brand equity and value proposition declines.

  • It won’t be the biggest budget – this isn’t about balance sheet heft
  • It won’t be the loudest – this isn’t about media tonnage
  • It won’t be the fastest – this isn’t just a pole race

Why sustainability is a pet category game changer

The Pandemic has served as a catalyst to refocus consumer priorities on more meaningful issues and conditions that help protect the world around us as much as they benefit ourselves and our pets. This development is occurring amidst increasingly obvious global warming events and signs of escalating climate chaos. Consumer research shows a growing priority placed on brand sustainability performance. Underneath we find increased awareness that our food system, both human and pet, is a key contributor to greenhouse gas impacts.

  • According to a recent study conducted by Emergent’s insight research partner Brand Experience Group, 66% of consumers today are either passionate or deeply concerned about sustainability. The consumer is already there. It’s time for the pet industry to answer this call to action.

Rapidly changing consumer sentiment is pushing sustainability commitments and policies to the forefront. Along with it is a form of shopping friction bubbling up because there’s no simple way to sort one brand from another on sustainability bona fides. Consumers want to know what a more sustainable brand choice looks like. Who will step forward with the right, credible, trustworthy story? Which retailers will surface to offer guidance on more sustainable choices in their stores?

It’s time for a new pet brand mantra anyway

For more than a decade the premium pet food business has been focused on a short list of competitive arguments around grain free, percentages of meat in the formula and the relevance of an ancestral diet. It’s time to begin a new conversation with pet parents that isn’t another rehash of the tropes that have been popular over the long tail of the pet food premiumization revolution.

Sustainability is a welcome departure to a new brand narrative, one that is values driven. It may also be a catalyst for a wave of product innovation that changes the ingredient complexion of the pet food industry. The recent joint venture announcement between Hill’s and Bond pet foods, a pioneer in precision fermentation technology, may presage the dawn of meat proteins that don’t originate with an animal, bird or fish. The sustainable ingredient story there will be unprecedented.

Where’s the beef?

Well, it’s on top of the list of carbon generators from ag sources. At 30% of global greenhouse gas contributions, agriculture is the number two worldwide contributor to global warming. When you look underneath the hood, you find that the top two sources of GHG from agriculture are beef and lamb production. It stands to reason that pet food has a job to do in raising the bar for improvements over time – both in promoting regenerative farming practices and sourcing from environmentally-responsible suppliers with a more sustainable story to tell.

The secret to sustainability success

Fly right.

The essential sustainability truth in pet food is revealed in the supply chain.

  • Meat forward diets mean carbon impacts are embedded in the product formulation.
  • Pet food makes up between 25 and 30% of the entire environmental impact of domestic meat consumption.
  • Meat centric pet diets generate approximately 64 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to driving 13.6 million cars for a year, according to Gregory Okin, a UCLA Professor who published an environmental impact study on pet food in the PLOS ONE Journal.

The road to pet brand sustainability readiness begins with a scientific, data-driven analysis of carbon footprint. From that foundation comes the ability to establish science-based mitigation and improvement targets over time. It’s important to note that every brand in the business faces similar sustainability challenges. The advantage goes to those who will do the science-based analysis to understand where the business is today before creating the roadmap for where it will go tomorrow and beyond.

The science-based approach helps brands avoid the trap of greenwashing by bringing data informed benchmarks and commitments. This reality benchmark in the sustainability conversation provides the brand with a credible, trustworthy platform on which to build its narrative. Invoking sustainability claims without the science assessment, knowing the challenges exist in the supply chain, is risky territory. Media and consumers are getting smarter about what constitutes credible moves to improve sustainability readiness vs. less genuine apple-polish style messaging.

Who is going to be the first with carbon footprint labeling?

Granted this is a new conversation to start with pet parents. Just as consumers may not fully understand what the protein percentage numbers on a bag truly mean, they may also lack deep knowledge of carbon scores. Nonetheless, when a brand anchors its narrative in real researched targets, it gains immediate cachet for bringing new belief points to the stage.

The initial footprint statement is likely to be aligned with standards and commitments for change over time, so the brand users know what the company is planning for improvement. No one expects a brand to be perfect right out of the gate. No brand will be for that matter. However, the transparency and clarity delivered will measurably advance the brand’s position as “the more sustainable choice.”

Whoever grabs first-mover status here is likely to be a perceptual and voice leader in the conversation around pet food sustainability. We can imagine the remarkable anchor this will create for storytelling at Global and Superzoo, especially when you can establish a unique state of the art for sustainable practices in the industry.

Anatomy of a pet brand sustainability winner

The crown for sustainability leader will likely pass to the pet brand that steps in with the greatest integrity and authenticity.

  • Begins with science-based carbon assessment and data informed mitigation targets.
  • Grounded in insight research that reveals the areas of sustainable performance that matter the most to brand users.
  • Backed by infrastructure to properly measure the business impacts of sustainability investments.
  • Supported with a robust communications platform to tell the brand’s sustainability bona fides to key consumer and stakeholder audiences.

If you think sustainability matters in the year ahead to competitive advantage in the pet brand market, we would invite a conversation to discuss how we can help build your sustainable brand platform and story. Use this link to learn more in our Brand Sustainability Solution program guide.

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 Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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