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Green is the New Black

Green Is the New Black

It was the announcement heard round the coffee-drinking world.

This summer, Starbucks committed to eliminating single-use straws by 2020. Over the past few years, businesses have been shifting toward waste reduction—like eliminating plastic straws and other nonessential items—which is the result of careful cultural listening. Consumers have been making lifestyle changes to reduce their environmental footprint for years, and they are demanding that the products they purchase follow suit: 91% of global consumers expect brands to address social and environmental issues.[1]

If there was ever a time for brands to give more thought to creating an ongoing conversation with consumers about their values, it’s now.

The food industry is uniquely situated to quickly adapt to this shift, given the consumable nature of its products. Consider Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain that places sustainability at the center of its ethos. Every utensil, bowl, lid and leftover bit of salad that comes from the store is compostable. In fact, everything purchased inside of a Sweetgreen is either recyclable or compostable, so that nothing ends in a landfill. The commitment to sustainability is part of how the restaurant developed a cult-like following that has driven a 50% increase in new stores in the last two years. Continual efforts, like the recently introduced new bowl meant to cut back on food and water waste, lets customers know that sustainability isn’t just a trend, but part of Sweetgreen’s fabric.

As with any type of purpose-driven strategy, self-serving efforts are easy to spot. For years, hotels have encouraged guests to reuse linens to “save the earth” to reduce their use of water and chemicals. But the reality is clear to savvy guests: fewer washes means a lower laundering cost. That doesn’t mean the hospitality industry doesn’t sincerely value water conservation, it just means that hotels can benefit from transparency in their approach to sustainability.

Take Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which offers a “Make a Green Choice” program, in which guests are rewarded with loyalty points or a food and beverage voucher when making sustainable choices. This reflects a conversation between brand and consumer, one that benefits both and diminishes the lopsided benefit to the brand. With 79% of travelers placing an importance on properties with environmentally minded practices,[2] it is clear that conservation is not just a niche concern, but a broadly accepted demand.

For decades, the directive has been “more.” Shop more. Buy more. But what happens when a company urges customers to consume less—even if that includes its own product? Outdoor gear retailer Patagonia shocked Black Friday shoppers a few years ago when it ran an ad that urged, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” It asked consumers to “buy less and reflect before you spend a dime on this jacket or anything else,” and included a list of initiatives Patagonia was taking to support a culture of reduced consumption. This campaign was more than just a bold move to endear the brand to the environmentally conscious—it put potential customers in the hot seat as well, asking them to consider the impact of their actions.

The differentiating point between this waste reduction trend and environmentally motivated brand tactics of the past is that it is in many ways a two-way street, requiring a conversation between brand and consumer to truly succeed. Reducing one’s environmental footprint requires adopting habits that may be at first unfamiliar and uncomfortable for both parties. It’s a new frontier that not all brands are willing to explore, but as with so many trends, early adopters are likely to be rewarded for seeing the bigger picture sooner.

[1] http://www.conecomm.com/research-blog/2015-cone-communications-ebiquity-global-csr-study
[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/28/business/hotels-embrace-sustainability-to-lure-guests-and-cut-costs.html

When D2C is Your CTA

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

It’s a buyer’s world—we’re just living in it. At least that’s the takeaway from the unstoppable growth in the direct-to-consumer (D2C) sphere. Shoppers are turning to brands that sell exactly what they want—conveniently, directly and frequently online. Two-thirds of consumers expect direct connectivity with a brand,[1] paving the way for success for digital-focused brands eschewing the traditional model of selling product through a retail partner.

The conveniences inherent in online shopping have directly impacted the growth of D2C brands, not only by removing the need to shop at a brick-and-mortar location, but by eliminating the cost of selling through a middle-man. The result? Higher quality products at affordable prices. Smart luggage provider Away says it best with its tagline: “First class luggage at coach prices.” The brand’s suitcases use the same materials as luggage that costs three times as much, but by owning production, marketing, distribution and sales, Away is able to provide quality at a lower cost.

Some of the most successful D2C brands have built a business model based on expertise. Rather than produce a variety of products like retail giants of the past, successful D2C brands focus on a single category—and frequently, a single product. Consider men’s grooming company Harry’s, which launched with just one razor. After being inundated with options in the shaving aisle, founder Andy Katz-Mayfield sought to simplify the razor shopping process. Using his experience as a shopper, Katz-Mayfield created one style of high-quality razor, bypassing the need to sift through the myriad options at the store. Focusing efforts on the one razor allowed Harry’s to be viewed as a category leader despite being newer to the market than more established brands.

The D2C model also lends itself to a price transparency that customers will soon come to expect as the norm. D2C clothing manufacturer Everlane breaks down the exact cost of producing an article of clothing, from materials to labor to hardware, for every item for sale on its website. This “true cost” is displayed adjacent to the price at which Everlane sells the item, and also compared to the much higher price at which a traditional retailer lists a similar item. With nearly 40% of consumers saying they would switch to a brand that is more transparent,[2] this tactic is more than just a way to showcase the value to the customer—it allows brands to develop personal relationships with their audience.

The stories D2C brands cultivate are the natural continuation of a more transparent relationship with customers who feel increasingly comfortable discussing their affinity for brands they trust. D2C brands are harnessing the power of user-generated content, in which people share their experiences with a product, to both study and broadcast what they’ve learned about their audience. Rent the Runway, a company through which users can rent and return designer clothing, fills its Instagram with reposted images of consumers who have tagged the company in their social posts. Their feed reflects the desire of their community: real women living their best lives affordably. Rather than buying their audience through television or print ads, D2C brands are creating their audience—and proudly showing them off.

There are lessons to be learned from D2C brands even if adopting the sales model is not always feasible. Namely that specificity is key and transparency is the future. An understanding of the fundamentality of these two concepts will help brands as they seek to foster deeper relationships with consumers in a digital-focused world.

[1] https://www.iab.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/The-Direct-Brand-Economy-Master-Deck-v17.pdf
[2] https://www.cision.com/us/2017/12/transparency-key-to-brand-loyalty/

Evolution of the Experience Economy

Experience Economy

Previous generations sought status in the form of homes, cars and labels, but millennials are trading in a social currency that’s far less tangible. With 72% of millennials saying they would rather spend money on an experience than a material item,[1] the “experience economy” has seen rapid growth, opening up a world of opportunity for both brands and consumers alike.

For some brands, marketing to an experience-focused consumer is a natural fit. Airbnb, the online home rental provider, tapped into this insight with their debut television commercial, encouraging travelers to go beyond visiting a place: “Don’t go there, live there.” Expanding upon this tagline, Airbnb began offering “experiences” in addition to home rentals, through which customers can take classes, go on tours and book other cultural activities that aim to help them explore the city they’re visiting in a more authentic manner.

But a brand doesn’t have to provide tourism and hospitality services to participate in the experience economy. The act of using a product or a service is by definition an interaction, and savvy brands have harnessed that potency to foster a relationship with users. Coca-Cola® honed in on the communal aspect of consuming their product, and the resulting “Share a Coke” campaign launched a cultural zeitgeist, with soda drinkers across the country looking for a bottle bearing their friends’ (or their own) names.

Digital companies, like eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, have revolutionized the e-commerce space by adding interactive elements to the online shopping process. Consumers are sent their preferred styles to test out, which can then be easily purchased; Warby Parker will even reimburse the cost of frame adjustments at any eyeglass retailer. They’ve made the online transaction interactive without physically engaging with the consumer, creating a lasting impression that feels personal—a prime example of how brands can encourage experiences, even if they can’t directly facilitate them.

Another way that brands can make this economy work for them is by creating an interactive engagement adjacent to their product. Casper®, the direct-to-consumer, mattress-in-a-box retailer, recently launched a brick-and-mortar destination called The Dreamery, at which they literally sell the act of sleep: for $25, consumers can take a 45-minute nap on a Casper® mattress. Not just a novelty for sleepy passersby, it also serves as a creative way for potential customers to take the mattress for a test-run—something that Casper already provides to anyone who buys one of their mattresses in the form of a 100-night, risk-free trial. By turning the act of sleeping into a commodified service, Casper® has essentially created a new product category, one in which it is uniquely situated to flourish.

So, if millennial consumers have demonstrated that they will connect with brands that understand their desire for the personal and ephemeral, what experience will you create for your brand? The end-game of creating these interactions is not just to sell more product: it’s to create a lasting relationship with the consumer.

[1] http://eventbrite-s3.s3.amazonaws.com/marketing/Millennials_Research/Gen_PR_Final.pdf

Brands Can Have Existential Crises, Too

Purpose-Driven

The saying goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” and in the current landscape, brands are finding themselves held to the same convention. Purpose-driven marketing has saturated the marketplace in recent months, with brands as diverse as Audi and Pepsi aligning their products with a mission or a cause, to varying degrees of success.

As consumers have become more vocal about their values and activism, brands recognize the opportunity to better bond with their targets. Identifying and aligning with causes important to their audiences not only helps to dimensionalize a brand, but creates emotional connections. When Audi used its Super Bowl spend on the issue of equal pay for equal work, it demonstrated an understanding of their target’s closely-held ideals.

As always, authenticity is key. Savvy consumers see through a half-baked attempt to jump on the purpose-driven bandwagon. Consider Pepsi’s protest spot, which featured model Kendall Jenner abruptly leaving a photoshoot to join a passing protest, before uniting cops and protesters with a can of Pepsi. It carried a muddled and confusing message, and to many, trivialized social and political demonstrations. The lesson is to ensure the connection between the brand and the mission not only makes sense, but feels genuine.

With 91% of Millennials saying they would switch to a brand associated with a cause, it’s clear that space to demonstrate purpose will quickly become crowded.[1] Companies aligning with a community’s values, however, should be prepared to fully make a commitment to this new way of thinking. The more visible the alignment, the greater the expectation that they live and operate according to those values. These brands will no longer be able to stay silent on an issue related to its purpose, lest their socially-driven consumers see that silence as a position.

The companies that will win in this space will be those willing to not only demonstrate care of issues, but to stand for values that may alienate a segment or cause interruptions in growth. Audi did this by building their Super Bowl creative around the issue of gender pay gap. CVS dropped tobacco sales from their stores, Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 refugees, and Target announced an inclusive transgender bathroom policy.

Each of the companies mentioned received varying response in their purpose stances: Target’s was most visible, with a boycott called for by a conservative organization. While Target’s same-store sales decreased during that period (which the company said was unrelated to the announcement), they received wide-spread acclaim from human rights organizations, which landed them on multiple “best places to work” lists. The reward is trading an identity with semi-universal appeal for one that connects more readily to a narrower, but higher-indexing target with greater loyalty.

We’re close to a world where consumers will make purchase choices not based on lifestyle aspirations, but on their worldview and belief system. Aligning with a brand will feel like a form of self-expression, with products serving as a physical representation of the values by which consumers define themselves. Brands will need to evaluate not only their own beliefs, but those of their target, and then decide if branching into the purpose-driven world is worth the risk. Our prediction? In the coming months, more and more brands will decide that the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

[1] https://blog.getresponse.com/purpose-driven-marketing.html

Fast Food – Not So Fast

People eating and drinking

What’s that line around the block? For a burger joint? And what’s in these chicken nuggets? Bulgur wheat? And since when did sriracha become a fast-food condiment?

In recent decades, the term “fast food” went from positive to pejorative, becoming perceived as a quick fix of salt, sugar and grease. But the timely collision of several national dialogues on nutrition, locally-sourced ingredients and the digital revolution have caused a real change in thinking.

It’s seen in chef David Chang’s $8.00 spicy fried chicken sandwich at his upscale “fast-casual” restaurant, Fuku. Or in the vegetable puree and togarashi-topped flatbread pizza substitute at Oakland’s revolutionary Loco’l. Or in the 30+ assembly-line salad locations of Sweetgreen, whose $100 million in venture funding was championed by billionaire AOL co-founder Steve Case.

This “American food revolution” did not happen overnight. It took two decades for wine to see a 50% increase in consumption, while the USDA’s move to certify foods as organic took nearly as long.

But with examples like McDonald’s closing 400 more restaurants than it opened, along with their statement of wanting to move entirely to sustainable beef, it’s clear that there is considerable economic pressure to reinvent the food that we think of as “fast.”

Marketers take note: Socially-conscious Millennials and aging Baby Boomers (looking to preserve their vitality) have demonstrated a willingness to spend their disposable income on quality food products. Those who think beyond illustrating benefits will see the reciprocity principle realized: A segment will take root when credence is given to both its aspirations and beliefs.

Summer Camp for Grownups—So Much More Than S’mores

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Americans live hard: a 60-hour workweek, a mortgage, car payments. Even if you’re driven and love what you do, grown-up life can drain the batteries.

Which is why summer camps for adults started springing up over the last decade. The weekend or week-long sleep away camps—with bonfires, ballads, beers and burgers—offer a good dose of nostalgia and a break from the daily grind

But now we see that goals for adult weekends (or weeks) away are changing: it’s no longer about escape from the life we live—it’s about enhancement of the life we love. Summer camps are expanding into opportunities for adults to explore other interests that their busy lives haven’t allowed: Formula One driving workshops, Life of a Zookeeper experiences and Cocktail Mixology camps are but a few of the ways we can cultivate our passions

We anticipate that forward-thinking brands will push this model further, creating immersive adventures to reveal their business identities with their target and growing their consumer into educated product evangelists who share their enthusiasm widely. Experiences will be manifested in the form of photos, social media interaction, personal blog posts, and enthusiastic stories that get shared over and over at business luncheons, weekend conferences and keynote speeches.

Marketers looking for new and innovative ways to develop not just large numbers of consumers, but passionately motivated members of an “extended marketing family,” would do well to “take it to camp,” and envision an adventure that benefits both the time-crunched consumer and the brand.

Dining In – Home Cooking Is the Comeback Kid

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The growth of restaurant sales has slowed in the last decade, with some of the largest casual dining restaurants reporting stalled or falling sales. Meanwhile, meal-kit businesses are on the rise with companies like Blue Apron, Plated and Green Chef generating $1.5 billion in 2016. The single largest food retailer? Walmart.

Look around: home cooking is back in a big way.

While Americans are still overworked and under-rested, health and wellness trends have created a new middle-class ambition: healthy, home-cooked meals. Supported by falling food prices and the popularity of all things artisanal, this trend shows no signs of slowing. People are clearing jackets, homework and mail off the dining room table and replacing them with meals they’ve assembled or fully cooked themselves.

As this market expands, simplicity, flexibility and affordability are crucial. Ordering from a meal-kit service or online grocer (that now includes Amazon), accommodating dietary restrictions, access to transportation or delivery, and ease of prep will be omnipresent. It’s unlikely that home chefs will be constructing complicated, multi-ingredient recipes, but a simple, fresh and inexpensive option at home will be an increasingly common occurrence.

Successful entrepreneurs will need to find a way to add one more unique element to distinguish themselves from the pack. Look to see a focus on fair trade ingredients, tailored offerings to a specific dietary clientele, or specialized growth in a desire for non-GMO-fed verified products in the near future. The nugget here is that a growing market is a diversified one, and the visionary leaders will identify a need ahead of their own consumers.

Gluten-Free: Sounds Good to Me

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Offering far more than just a gluten-free pasta option, New York restaurant Senza Gluten has dedicated its entire menu to fine gluten-free dining. Pizza, pasta, flatbreads, sandwiches and desserts—you name it. Not in your area? Try Find Me GF, an app that identifies gluten-free businesses near you.

With 18 million Americans diagnosed as gluten sensitive and one in every 133 Americans with some form of celiac disease, this is more than a trendy dietary preference. Whether due to modern trends in wheat hybridization, increased reporting, greater attention paid to nutritional issues in general, or light shed on the issue by celebrities, wheat gluten sensitivity is a hot-button topic.

Think this is limited to mom-and-pop shops? Industry giant Archer Daniels Midland has responded by gaining a controlling interest in smaller businesses such as Harvest Innovations, an industry leader in minimally-processed, gluten-free nutritional alternatives. With facilities in places like Indianola, Iowa and Deshler, Ohio, this trend is more than an urban exception; it directly affects the nutritional—and financial—health of our nation’s heartland.

Consumers have responded with profitable demonstrations of brand loyalty and a willingness to pay a little extra for good food that’s healthy, sustainable, and locally-sourced. The challenge for brand managers today—for all industries—is to discover how their product fits into a growing consumer landscape composed of niche needs.

 

How Do Your Customers Get Their Web? Browser? App? OTA?

marketing_virtual_realityAs the web gets larger and larger, its access points get smaller and smaller. Soon they may even be invisible.

Browser-access is antiquated

Going fast are the days of using a desktop web browser for online commerce. Recent Nielsen data clearly shows that the trend for mobile Internet access favors mobile platforms (iOS, Android, etc.) by 90%[1]. Traditional desktop layouts are over-complicated for smaller touch-screens, draining battery life, clogging download speeds, and wasting valuable bytes of data downloads via a cellular connections. The first correction was the platform-adaptive web design – a simple solution for those who require only a basic Internet presence. But for greater consumer interaction, let’s look at the app.

The App is the current state of online access

User-friendly apps (applications) are ‘micro programs’ that streamline layout, options, and access directly to a specific commercial or industrial entity. Retail business apps offer QRC and barcode scanning options, insurance apps offer online claim forms with pop-up selections rather than character-entered data, content and media providers like Netflix or The New York Times offer episode lists, articles, and subscription information directly to the consumer with no distribution middle-man. Voice command systems like Siri and Google Now bypass the keyboard entirely, so that the consumer doesn’t have to scroll through a list of options – the mobile device does that for you far more efficiently.

The future is OTA

Following through with this kind of innovation, we see online access being built directly into the product itself. Just as apps make online access faster, easier, and more direct, Over The Air (OTA) information systems will challenge the way brands interact with their followers and customers. Amazon’s Echo exists as a stand-alone wireless household information station, feeding families everything from recipes to product prices without even going to a separate device. Tesla Motors is equipping its cars with online functionality to update and upgrade the software performance in its vehicles. Does the idea of your car getting a software update while it sits in your garage at night sound like science fiction? Think again – it’s already here.[2]

What this means for client/consumer interaction

A landing page will be a thing of the past. A scrolling list of options will seem quaint. Modern aggressive marketing means predicting the needs and interests of the client, bypassing slow and costly access to fulfilling them, and offering direct pipelines to do so, in some cases without even having to ask. The ideal Internet is invisible, seamless, self-sufficient – leaving your customers and clients free to focus on all the exciting products and services your company has to offer.

[1] http://www.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/mobile-marketing-analytics/mobile-marketing-statistics/
[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-25/those-pesky-software-updates-now-coming-to-a-car-near-you

 

Does Your Brand Have an Opinion?

Does your brand have a voice?
Does your brand have a voice?

Less than three weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled five to four that all Americans, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, have the right to marry. Immediately, brands joined the public in voicing their support for the vote through their social media feeds, illustrating that—once forbidden territory—marketers are stepping forward and publicly taking a stand on issues previously thought “too political.”

Consumer Connections Through Cause 

With the rise of social media marketing, companies are attempting to be more human, hoping to relate to their consumers as they connect with them. Brands are creating roles as friends and peers, instead of large corporations with communication becoming more individualized and localized. These “personal“ connections are subsequently leading them to pipe up on issues that are relevant to their consumers: in this case products from JELL-O to Cheerios and Target to Uber, posted photos incorporating the rainbow flag into their products, receiving generally positive feedback from their social communities.

The Constant Search for Relevancy

Consumer-driven social media is dictated by the people. Constant updates are made to Facebook based on fan feedback and new apps are popping up to fill voids in the social sphere, which will only grow. And as those budgets increase, companies must be ready to add a relevant opinion to the conversation on issues that don’t directly involve their products and that extend beyond what is happening in the headlines.

It is important for brand owners to start planning now and thinking beyond the basic values of their marketing identity. By developing guidelines for their social and political stances, they will set up more opportunities to engage and ensure that they can join the conversation quickly and connect further with their fan base.