Posts tagged "strategic planning"

Brand purchase funnel no longer relevant

Marketing Funnel Flipped on its Head

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

New direction on the evolving role of brand marketing

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

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

The funnel is dead, long live the funnel…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edelman Trust Barometer sheds light on the shift

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

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

You might be wondering what’s behind this change…

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

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

So how does it work now?

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

Brand marketing is now about cultural influence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guidance on 2024 stratgies

2024 Trend Forecast: Consumers Seek Truth Amplified by Transparency

January 4th, 2024 Posted by brand marketing, brand messaging, brand strategy, branded content, Consumer trends, Healthy Living, Higher Purpose, Insight, storytelling, Strategic Planning 0 comments on “2024 Trend Forecast: Consumers Seek Truth Amplified by Transparency”

Artifice falls away, replaced by a tour behind the product creation curtain…

Much of what unfolded in 2023 has laid down a runway for how your strategy should evolve in 2024. Over the last year we’ve seen a distinct rise of consumer uncertainty, a decline in feelings of control and increasing uneasiness over extraordinary climate change impacts, a chaotic political environment, see-saw inflation, raging wars and other forms of personal and societal disruption.

  • According to Kantar, 43% of Americans experienced mild to severe anxiety, up from 26% a year earlier, while half of millennials now rank their mental health as part of their well-being they are most concerned about.

It has authored a distinct premium on the desire for authenticity, truth, honesty, values, belief – all of which, incidentally, are desirable human traits. So how should brands respond in an environment where consumers crave honest, respectful relationships between themselves and the brands they care about? By adopting more human-like qualities and behaviors.

  • In a recent story on viral engagement at Fast Company, Clinique Global VP of consumer engagement Lucy Burns said, “Gen Z can smell ads a mile away. They are the first generation that really wants brands and creators to authentically speak to them. And what does that mean? You don’t create an ad. You create content that they would want to engage with.”

This will be the year of yearning for discernment of the real and true while working to avoid the artificial and questionable. As reported earlier this year in the Emerging Trends Report, consumers have turned inward to themselves for guidance. Why? People have become increasingly skeptical and wary of less credible independent sources and therefore what they perceive to be unreliable and not-so faithful recommendations about products and services.

  • Key insight: Further probing on this condition, we find consumers moving to seek a deeper level of discovery and understanding about the products they care about.

Know more, want more granular info

Emergent has been crunching the consumer insight research reports and studies, as we lean into our predictions for where CPG food, beverage and retail marketing is headed in 2024. The overriding theme and guidance for the coming year is an advancing consumer interest in securing more details about how products are created, manufactured and what’s inside them.

  • In short both retail and CPG marketers will have a lot of explaining to do as consumers demand truth and transparency from the brands that matter to them.

What this means: consumers want to understand what the food and beverages they ingest consist of. They want their expectations to be fulfilled and this requires brands to take consumers behind the curtain and reveal more substantive details about formulation, ingredient sourcing and production methods.

Truth: consider the credibility of the content source and how the story is packaged

Transparency: take them behind the scenes to see how you do what you do

Here are six specific food/bev industry trends that remain common across generational audience segments:

  1. Less Processed

Consumers do not believe that ultra-processed is a positive attribute. Brands with ultra-processed products should consider investing R&D energy to create less processed versions of products, with simpler labels and emphasis on the nutritional density of ingredients used. Plant-based brands should bear in mind this applies to how products are created and presented. Plant-based used to automatically convey an item is better for you. Not so much now. Some plant-based categories are seen as overly processed. Consumers know more, so Show Me is the operative behavior in brand communications.

2. Upcycled

We’re seeing a growing interest in upcycled ingredients used in product creation. Consumers perceive this as less wasteful and more sustainable. Plus, it’s a great story to tell in product creation narratives.

3. Sustainable

Consumer attitudes on sustainability has shifted due to greater knowledge and understanding of the environmental impact of our food system. It is no longer just the use of recyclable packaging, efficient energy sources and water management. Consumers have connected the dots between supply chain and emissions performance. They want to know what brands and retailers are doing to advance policies and standards related to regenerative agriculture and use of less carbon-intensive ingredients.

4. Nutritional Density

Consumers believe there is a connection between what they eat and their overall quality of life and health. Alongside the redefinition of what aging looks like and how lives can transform over time based on taking better care of yourself, brands can position themselves squarely in the bulls-eye of lifestyle partnership. This is accomplished by delivering products that provide functional ingredients designed to enhance delivery of vitamins, minerals, proteins without added sugars, the wrong kinds of fats and high sodium content.

5. Energy Reduction Plays

Previously, refrigeration translated to fresher, higher quality. That said, consumers increasingly see these as a hidden cost tradeoff to the planet on energy use. Development of more shelf stable versions of products will enable brands to talk about ways they are helping reduce energy signatures in how their products are distributed and merchandized in-store.

6. Disguising Fruit and Veg

Lingering in the back of consumers’ minds is a fundamental consideration that more fruit and veg in the diet is a good thing. How those better-for-you servings are acquired and consumed presents an opportunity for brands. How can you bring the nutritional benefits of these ingredients in a form consumers will find simple, easy and delicious to consume? Some smoothie beverage brands are great at this.

2024’s megatrend – healthy living, aging and self-care

People believe that what they consume has a direct relationship to the quality of their lives. This impacts health, wellness and helps answer their desire to slow down or even reverse the effects of aging. How can you partner with consumers on their healthy living journey? How can your brand proceed as guide and coach on helping them realize their goals and ambitions? Think of your brand as a true, reliable friend. What would a real friend do to help?

Tactics: what’s behind the thirst for information?

Consumers want to know more about how you create your products and what’s inside them because it helps re-establish their sense of control and ability to create customized solutions for themselves. With so much environmental noise causing people to believe they are losing control, giving it back to them is vital in your relationship. More information puts them in the driver’s seat while you supply the grist for their own lifestyle consideration. This should be reflected in your content creation plans.

Primacy of emotion, best served

As we’ve said before, decisions and actions originate in the limbic area of the brain, and our subconscious (dictates actions we take) is heavily influenced through emotion. This is best seen by emphasizing the joy of cooking alongside the joy of eating and drinking – no matter the category, this rule remains true: celebrate the experiences of cooking, consuming and their related social interaction benefits.

Emergent’s role refined for 2024

We believe that strong brands win so we’re obligated to help strengthen client brands by driving towards greater uniqueness and differentiation. Well-positioned brands say and do things differently than others in their category. They bring a different tone, see the future differently and have a clear point of view.

Our role: to help clients refine and package how they show up in the world. To that end, we work to build brand reputations, credibility, belief and transcendence. We believe the foundation for this work lies in refinement of brand purpose, deeper meaning and values. We know that conveying your brand’s “why” – its true purpose – is a more effective tool to win hearts and minds than the typical feature/benefit story. People are irresistibly drawn to brands that share a vision and reason for being they believe in. We connect this story to the brand users through stories – content and earned media.

Final guidance for 2024

Brand optimism. Through all of the doomer conditions people are confronted with on a daily basis, smart brands can be a safe harbor for an optimistic outlook based on progress and personal fulfillment. Your brand’s role as coach, guide and enabler can help people envision a better, brighter and more meaningful future.

If these observations and possibilities strike a chord for honing your 2024 plans, use this link to start an informal conversation about your questions and concerns.

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

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

Brand purpose, meaning and beliefs

You Can Harness Marketing’s Law of Physics

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

Divining the formula for consistent engagement and growth…

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

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

The theory we’re working to change…

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiration vs. manipulation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This formula for success shows up in messaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street racing victory snatched by NOS

Why your “why” is vital to brand competitive advantage

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

Doing business in the era of higher purpose and beliefs

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

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

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

The incredible power of “why”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mining the influence of cultural shift

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

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

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

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

More sustainable choices:

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

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

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

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

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

Health, wellness and a desire to reassert personal control:

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

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

Experiences over consumption for its own sake:

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

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

Modern brands as coach, guide, advisor and enabler

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consumer tribes and clans cloud the question of relevance

Rise of “Individuals” Requires Shift to Focused Strategy

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

Matter to someone or risk mattering to no one…

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

Narrowing, specializing, customizing, individual-izing

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

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

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

Source: Deloitte

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

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

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

Dawn of a marketplace populated with subsegments and microsegments

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

Consider these active lifestyle tribes:

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

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

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

Find brand traction by becoming an enabler

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

What human-relevant purpose should you be mining?

What activities and experiences will draw them in?

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

What words will resonate?

What information do they seek to improve themselves?

How can you best mirror their wants and desires?

What stories should you be telling?

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

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

Planning steps in response to these developments

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

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

Take for example the culinary artist…

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

How can you feed their need for kitchen exploration?

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

What experiences can you arrange to engage their gustatory desires?

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

Can you help them relax with foodie vacation ideas?

What new kitchen tech should they know about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go narrow. Go all in.

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

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

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

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 [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.

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