Posts tagged "storytelling"

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.

Human behavior and marketing

Mapping the Intersection of Psychology and Brand Communication

June 6th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, brand advocacy, brand marketing, brand messaging, Brand preference, Brand trust, engagement, Social proof, storytelling 0 comments on “Mapping the Intersection of Psychology and Brand Communication”

Don’t overlook the human in front of you

We’re going to peel the onion on how people think and operate. We’ll show you how this impacts optimizing brand communications strategy to vastly improve engagement and results from your investments in consumer and stakeholder outreach.

But first, the state of the state

It seems inevitable, like a law of physics gone bad, that the majority of CPG and retail marketing is inwardly focused on the brand or product specifics. Communication strategies spin around self-promotion, and a belief that brands must “prove” their value with analytical arguments. As such, marketers are fixated on what has been invented, added or stirred in to the product to “deserve” the purchase or shop. This approach is founded on a view that the hard evidence, pushed even harder at the audience, makes the product or retailer more desirable.

But this is a mistake. Like lies by omission, this approach glosses over the profound truths we know about how people think and behave. Doesn’t it make more sense to design brand communication that resolves the inherent barriers to change people raise, rather than pushing proof points to an audience that begins each day with risk aversion sewn into their DNA?

Neophobia is everywhere

“Fear of anything new” lives in varying degrees with most people. We are, after all, creatures of habit for the very reason people abhor the discomfort of perceived risk in making bad decisions. Staying the course with the tried-and-true takes burning any mental calories out of the equation through default to the familiar.

However, for any brand or business, launching new products, services, ideas are fundamental to generating incremental growth. With resistance baked into human behavior change, it only makes sense to work backwards from how people think to acknowledge the human in front of us in our story.

The driving force behind decisions is…

People are on a constant scan of their surroundings for information that affirms their own point of view. We call this confirmation bias. People see what they expect to see and conclude what they expect to conclude. Try asking a Coke drinker to switch to Pepsi – not likely and a sampling will simply confirm their bias about taste expectations. The importance of insight research to better understand what people already believe can’t be overstated. Confirmation bias is foundational to the human condition and needs to be weighed on the path to optimal strategy.

How do marketers answer risk and bias?

Changing minds and hearts is an invitation to trust creation. Important to note here that trust is a feeling and not a rational experience. It emerges when we sense the brand is driven by values and beliefs, similar to our own, that transcend self-gain. This is the essence of our longing for reciprocity, honesty and integrity – qualities people resonate to and respect.

Specific considerations from human behavior insight come to play in the strategic plan.

Narrow your targeted consumer cohorts to those whose beliefs are closer to the desired opinion or viewpoint you are trying to secure. There is a temptation especially at a launch to go wide and attempt to appeal to everyone. That is a riskier approach. Better to identify the audience closest to your proposition, those most likely to embrace your offer because it is seen as a pain killer. A pain killer is a product your refined audience needs to have now, right now, rather than a nice to have maybe someday.

But what about those consumers who are further afield and more difficult to draw in? Here are three principles to consider when you have a steeper hill to climb.

  • Shorten/reduce the ask – how can you create a stepping-stone approach of a slower, steady path to change that comes at people in chunks and stages. Meatless Monday is a great example of modifying the ask. You don’t need to convert to a plant-based diet entirely, just one day a week opens the door to trial and experience without trying to force wholesale lifestyle change.
  • Switching the field – look for places where like-mindedness already exists, where your brand values and beliefs align. This “unsticking point” can help move your audience closer to you by riding the wave of shared view and aspiration. People are more comfortable with what is familiar to them.
  • Adoption psychology – how easy and frictionless can you make trial? How can you reduce the costs of trial? How do you remove any sense of risk in taking a bite-size swing at what’s on offer? Ease of returns maybe. Years ago, Zappos as an early player in e-commerce created free shipping and free returns as a path to making shoe purchases acceptable and desirable when customers couldn’t try a pair before buying. Now we take that free ship offer for granted, but in its day, that big move raised business results literally overnight.

Here are rules to observe in risk reduction:

Rule of Similarity

We will believe “people like me” before accepting the assertions and claims made by brands. The opportunities for engagement increase substantially when people are in communities of like-minded souls who share the same needs and concerns.

Curate your social channels to identify audiences most likely to resonate and share similar points of view with each other. This narrowcasting approach is more powerful than ‘all things to all people’.

Rule of Validation

The more risky the ask, the more verification will be required. The use of multiple outside third party, credible voices can help make your communication convincing and validating. We did this for a financial services company whose primary customers were banks – a conservative, risk averse audience if there ever was one. We created a video covering key issues of concern on the path to acceptance. We did this through candid, unscripted interviews with 10 existing banker customers from varying markets and business models. These executives affirmed through their own experiences what we wanted potential bank prospects to believe. The sheer number of voices, the similarity of backgrounds and values, the humanization and unscripted tone made the entire communication more credible, powerful. The outcome was astounding to quicky step bank decision makers beyond perceived risk and resistance.

Rule of Concentration

We often get asked, which is better – a heavy-up concentration of media activity over a smaller geographic area vs. a broader but lighter outreach over a larger distribution territory? The answer is concentration is always best to help confront the desired audience with multiple messages from multiple sources. This generates a bandwagon effect that suggests to the audience, “wow, this might be important” and thus worthy of further investigation. It may take longer to address a larger geographic launch this way, but it will also be more effective.

We often convey to clients that Emergent is in the brand storytelling business. That’s certainly true. But if we step back and look at the integration of strategy to story and what we know about behavior, it might be more accurate to say we’re in the risk removal business.

We utilize our knowledge of psychology and neuroscience to help create interest, change and trial by getting past the elaborate risk barriers every human manifests. We reduce risk by mining our client brands’ higher purpose and values alignment (trust) — while delivering credible evidence and authoritative guidance that gives consumers permission to buy.

If you would like to talk in greater detail about how risk aversion impacts your business, use this link to start an informal get-acquainted conversation.

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

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

Sustainability transformation

Inevitable Truths to Accelerate Sustainability Transformation

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

New website illuminates the changes and solutions ahead

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

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

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

Two converging issues: carbon footprint visibility and supply chain realities

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

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

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

The food system reality check(mate)

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

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

What does all of this mean to your business?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Founders personify brand purpose

Is Your Brand’s Soul Strategy Your Sole Strategy?

May 11th, 2022 Posted by Behavioral psychology, Brand Design, brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, Brand trust, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling 0 comments on “Is Your Brand’s Soul Strategy Your Sole Strategy?”

Without careful nurturing, the deeper meaning you started with will disappear

Truth is people care more about your *why* than they care about your brand’s how or what. While they aren’t necessarily enamored with your competitive specs and formulation wizardry, what they will resonate to is *why* you do it. Your purpose – your deeper effort to do something more meaningful – a mission that transcends commerce. These are the beliefs and values that draw people in, anchor their advocacy, and make them want to be members of your brand community rather than merely users.

Yet over and over again, we observe organizations failing to see the importance of these principles and in doing so, lose the magic that resonates and attracts people to the extraordinary promise that heralded the company’s genesis.

Your *Why* matters.

The why of every organization starts in the past, informed by the life experiences and aspirations of the founder(s) –people who were motivated to do something bigger than themselves. The foundational concept becomes the secret sauce that drives brands forward. It is, however, elusive, and can disappear over time if the cultural legacy and beliefs that lifted the organization to its initial success are lost. Future management teams may believe efficiency, cost control and improved processes constitute the levers of brand affinity and business growth. Not so.

Iconic brands are not immune to this almost inevitable and corrosive condition!

Charles Lubin, a Chicago baker, established the Kitchens of Sara Lee in 1949, naming it after his nine-year old daughter and launched his first successful product, a cream cheesecake. But it was a retailer in Texas who wanted to stock Sara Lee desserts that prompted him to reformulate so it could be successfully frozen and shipped long distances. Lubin invented the frozen baked goods category. He sparked innovations in production (foil pans) and flash freezing that fueled national distribution of his “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee” brand.

He retired from the business in 1968, then owned by Consolidated Foods (later renamed Sara Lee Corporation). As is often the case when the visionary moves on, if the deeper purpose, beliefs and meaning he brought with him are relegated to historical record, the heart of the enterprise’s belief system can get usurped by process, operations and balance sheet considerations. By the early 1990’s without nourishment of the Sara Lee brand soul, inevitable decline had set in. The parent company, now called Sara Lee Corporation, began to contemplate divesting its corporate namesake baked goods business. Tough to do.

The Wheatley Blair agency was retained on a rescue mission. Could we turn the business around? It would require radical moves, marketing finesse, a complete restage and especially, soul regeneration. Our strategy: unlike so many other food brands with made-up names, there really is a Sara Lee. Could we reinstall some of the magic and meaning by bringing her in to be the face and voice of the brand?

Soon we found ourselves sitting in Sara Lee’s upper east side apartment in Manhattan talking about her dad’s legacy and how much the business needed her help. Reluctantly she agreed to get involved and so we mapped a three-year strategy to revitalize the brand around her as spokesperson and personification of a new era at Sara Lee.

What happened next was truly remarkable. To launch a new line of baked goods with a lighter formulation, we created the first International Symposia on Dessert in Vienna, Austria – the world capital of dessert and pastry.

We flew 56 top North American food media to Vienna for three days of 24/7 dessert-centric experiences, seminars and tasting events. There, for the first time we introduced the world to Sara Lee the real, living human namesake. The media were smitten. The brand garnered more media attention than it had received in its entire history. This brought a refreshing injection of tangible humanity into a brand that had lost its anchor. Within a year the business started its upward trajectory and Sara Lee Corporation credited the strategy with turning the Sara Lee brand around at its annual shareholder meeting.

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?”

Steve Jobs understood this and saw it unfold in real time.

“Something happens to companies when they get to be a few billion dollars, they sort of turn into vanilla companies. They add a lot of layers of management. They get really into process rather than results, rather than products. Their soul goes away. And that’s the biggest thing that John Scully and myself will get measured on five years from now, six years … Were we able to grow into a $10 billion company that didn’t lose its soul?” – said Steve Jobs, circa 1984, in a Rolling Stone magazine interview.

Of course, Jobs was pushed out of his own company in 1985 and we know the Scully years were not necessarily a huge win for Apple. Until, the corporate “soul” in the form of Steve Jobs returned in 1997 to reinstall a refreshed ‘change the world’ vision and “Think Different” higher purpose. That purpose has remained with Tim Cook and the company continues to follow its inspiration and celebration of creativity and empowering individuals to change the world around them.

“I want to put a ding in the universe” – Steve Jobs

Apple doesn’t sell machines. Never has. Apple Macintosh was the first personal computer to offer a “graphical user interface” and mouse. Did anyone yearn for this tech? No. It was the point and click simplicity that elevated the experience. The story around enabling creative citizen communication and putting the power of publishing in the hands of any human was a dramatic departure from everything that came before it. The emotion-driven purpose that so resonated was: Empowering Creativity. Anyone’s creativity. Everyone’s creativity. No matter what the expression of that creativity was, you were now empowered to – borrowing from another – Just Do It.

Coffee culture and experience

Howard Schultz was struck by the coffee culture he observed in business trips through Italy. The sense of community and conversation that was part of the cultural vibe around the experience of enjoying elevated and refined coffee beverages. In its earliest days Starbucks was about bean religion and ingredient provenance stories for the vast improvement they brought over the current miserable state of coffee beverages sold in America.

He created the ‘third place’ as a personification of coffeehouse culture that turned Starbucks into a destination of enjoyment around subtle European sophistication cues. In those days coffee would be served in ceramic cups. People were encouraged to stay. It was a cultural immersion. There was deeper meaning, values and lore around coffee beverages, a veritable world tour of taste sensations (now taken for granted). When Schultz left the company some of its soul went with him. In his subsequent returns some of that magic came back with him trailing like the visible tail of a comet.

  • The biggest challenge any brand will face over time is how the organization continues to grow and prosper without diluting its soul. And if that happens, how to reacquire it by looking backwards, not forwards to the story and formative beliefs and values that drove the concept from day one.

Money is not a purpose, it is an outcome

Why is *why* so important?

Because it inspires trust. It reaches the heart. It is always heart over mind you know!

Nothing can be more important in the digital age when ‘anything that can be known, will be known,’ craters so many corporate and individual reputations. When the words used to describe what a company does are unrelated to price, quality, services and features, you have a clear indicator that the *why* has blossomed.

When Schultz departed Starbucks and subsequent management focused on what and how over why, the soul eroded and commoditization challenges took root.

Here is the essence of it…

When a brand clearly, resolutely communicates its *why* – its beliefs and values – consumers believe what the organization believes. People will go to great lengths to include brands with a soul in their lives. Not because of any analytical evaluation of product features, but because people hold up those brand values and beliefs as markers and signals of who they are, what they care about. Apple is a flag for creative expression. Starbucks was a statement of sophistication. Costco is not a store, it is a treasure hunt.

People form communities to be around others with shared values and aspirations. Companies can help foster those communities when the story they tell is grounded in higher purpose rather than product slogans, features and benefits.

When a company doesn’t offer anything beyond rational, analytical arguments about its product, it is attempting to force less than inspiring decisions on a purchase – and commoditizing itself in the process. The only games left to play at that point are attempts at manipulation through conventional interruption media and incentives.

  • People want to belong to something bigger than themselves. Can you provide that? People aren’t buying what you do, they are buying why you do it.

If you need help and guidance in reasserting your why, or creating the higher purpose for your brand, use this link to start a conversation with a team that understands how to elevate purpose as core strategy and a business anchoring system.

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.

Technology has leveled the competitive advantage playing field

The million-dollar barrier to great marketing has vanished!

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

A massive leveling has commoditized advantages

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

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

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

Seth Godin marked the change beautifully in a recent post:

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

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

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

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

All of these things are now incredibly cheap.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The large brand paradox

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

“We’re too big to fail”

“We’ve always done it this way”

“Our growth is aligned with the category performance”

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

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

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

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

“What if we (read: I) fail”

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

The new rules of engagement

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

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

The beauty of a level playing field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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