A veritable mountain of consumer insight research continues to underscore the importance of transparency, integrity, ingredient quality and higher purpose to consumer purchase decisions for food, beverage and lifestyle brands they prefer. The legacy CPG and retail marketing paradigm of “interrupt and persuade” has disintegrated. The old methodology of creating strategy that invokes promises and claims around product features, formulation specs and benefits no longer resonates.
At the core of this cultural shift is one over-arching driver that enables sustainable brand relationships: Trust creation. In light of these changes, we’ve designed a new effective strategy planning approach at Emergent; one intended to anchor consumer trust and build added depth and meaning (value proposition) for a brand.
Emergent’s proprietary planning model — Validation Marketing™ — is constructed to supply tangible evidence of a company’s beliefs, behaviors and commitments to quality.
- Our formal definition of Validation in this context is providing conclusive proof, evidence and demonstration of what we want consumers to believe about the brand and company.
Five key principles inform Validation Marketing. These foundational ideas spring from insight-research studies that chart the cultural migration from a brand’s self-reverential declarations of superiority to a focus on what consumers are passionate about and what is relevant to them.
Principle 1 — The Power of Higher Purpose
Belief and mission have never stood so strongly until now as a gateway to trusted brand relationships with consumers. A brand’s higher purpose represents a departure from transactional thinking and reflects instead what the core consumer truly cares about — what they value around beliefs and a value system that extends beyond commerce. Purpose strategy must be a reflection of the company’s unique mission, and how it’s embedded in the organization’s DNA.
Principle 2 — Trust Springs from Transparency
Openness is best served generously and often — by pulling back the curtain fully on supply chain standards, manufacturing processes, ingredient sources and quality standards. Letting the consumer in the door to observe, advise and co-create. Importantly, this also means acquiring a reflexive willingness to openly admit missteps — a very powerful and very human, laudable quality. This nurtures trust — the real pivot point in any meaningful brand relationship.
Principle 3 — The Connection of Influence to Validation
“Trusted source” credibility is now the accelerator of business communication, rather than the gross impressions or reach and frequency metrics (tonnage in media weight) that defined marketing traction for a generation.
The significance of respected influencers today is the validation they provide that reinforces and confirms what a brand or retailer says is indeed true. Influencers inform from a position of embedded trust.
Principle 4 — Emotion and Lifestyle Relevance
We know purchase decisions are made on an emotional level. Validation Marketing is based on appeals to the heart more than the head. Ultimately this is about commitments and beliefs. These subjects are best served with a heaping tablespoon of emotion and baked-in lifestyle relevance. When a company realizes and integrates its higher purpose into all aspects of how it goes to market, the outcome feeds a more emotive form of communication — one that inspires a true connection to people.
Principle 5 — The Importance of Social Proof
People respect and believe their friends, family members and other consumers ahead of any communication created by a brand. At the Pet Food Forum convention in Kansas City, presenter John Stanley of John Stanley & Associates cited research showing 93 percent of Millennials make their purchase decisions from endorsements, and of those, 66 percent came directly from friends. This helps us see social channels from a new and more productive angle: the mechanism of social proof — another step in the validation ecosystem. Social channel and user generated content tools are critical components in optimizing this channel.
Advocacy Drives Story Amplification
If friends’ recommendations matter during a purchase decision then it follows that brand fans can be powerful ambassadors providing the grist for social community and positive conversation about a brand. Getting to a trusted place where people want to become “members” of a brand community — and not merely purchasers — stems from a brand’s relevant meaning, higher purpose and its surrounding validation and advocacy.
Three Action Steps:
For food, beverage and lifestyle brands here’s a roadmap for embarking on the path to Validation Marketing success.
1. Message — Telling the stories behind how and where you source. The relentless drive for quality, the real people who manage your effort (and yes, your magic!), and the standards you’ve created to ensure repeated excellence. People want to know what goes into the foods and beverages they consume. Take people back to the farm.
2. Manner — There’s real, honest emotion around food, food experiences and the role it plays in our lives. Create context for your products within the inspiration people have in the kitchen, at the table and how they live. Connect the love people have for food and the social experiences it enables to your brand.
3. Make — Emphasize craftsmanship and attention to detail in product creation. What steps do you take to ensure the end result is the best quality? Help people understand how you do what you do. And just as important: tell consumers what you won’t do, the lines you won’t cross and the compromises you won’t make.
At the core of this approach to brand and retail marketing is the Higher Purpose you create that informs everything you do — as described in our post Building the Higher Purpose Brand.
Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.