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What Flowers and Fruits Can Teach Us About Content and Branding

By James Glover

Content marketing and branding go farther back than you might think. Although many of us think of consumerism as an invention of the modern mind, the truth is that the natural world invented it long before us humans.

The world’s earliest examples of branding date back to hundreds of years before the golden age of advertising — long before humans could write, in fact.

Surprising as it might sound, some of the first forms of branded advertising were flowers and fruits. To encourage animals to help distribute their seeds and pollen, plants created brightly colored “advertisements” in the forms of apples, peaches, tulips and orchids. Over time, each of those plant species became a successful “brand” that still attracts customers today.

In the same way, birds and insects were some of the world’s first brand-conscious shoppers. Hummingbirds, for example, consistently prefer different flower “brands” than bees do.

Even in digital marketing, we still use food-related language — hoping audiences will “consume” our products if we match their “taste.”

Metaphors like these contain a surprising amount of truth about our customers — from the ways they discover new products, to the reasons they get turned off by others, and even the rhythms in which they seek out familiarity or novelty.

Here’s how this natural framework can help you cultivate more fruitful customer relationships.

Customers experience their first taste differently depending on mood.

As any parent of young children can tell you, it’s often a challenge to talk your kids into trying new foods — especially when those foods are weird-looking vegetables. But while some parents resort to the old formula of “Because I told you so,” I’ve gotten much better results by carefully choosing the right moments to serve up healthy foods.

Our moods influence much more than just our willingness to sample new veggies. Psychological research shows that our emotional state can actually change the way many foods taste. When we’re in a pleasurable mood, chocolate and fruit taste sweeter and richer — while, when we’re stressed, sour and bitter flavors seem to take over the whole palate, potentially ruining our dining experience.

By this same logic, your subscribers’ experience with the products you’re promoting owes as much to their emotional states as it does to the quality of your content. Catch them at a moment when they’re already stressed, and they may reach for the “Unsubscribe” button. Reach them at moments when they’re emotionally receptive, and you’ll find they’re far more open to expanding their tastes — and will experience your products with much more receptive palates.

Even if a customer enjoys their first taste, they may not want a repeat.

We’ve all had the experience of sampling a pungent spice or an unusual piece of sushi, and thinking, “Well, I’m glad I tried that — but I never want to taste it again.”

In other words, the mere fact that we like to try new foods doesn’t necessarily mean all those foods will end up on our weekly menu or will open up whole new categories of culinary exploration. Sometimes we just want to taste, savor the experience of trying something new, and move on.

This universal human tendency makes it clear why repetitive “You might also like…” recommendations rarely speak to customers’ actual desires. The fact that I’ve just tried raw sea urchin doesn’t mean I now want to eat sea urchins for breakfast tomorrow — nor does a customer’s purchase of stiletto heels mean she’s suddenly become a designer shoe collector.

Instead of rehashing the purchases your customers made yesterday or last week, your marketing automation software should be able to predict what those purchases imply about each shopper’s taste tomorrow. Maybe a customer’s high heel purchase means she’s just landed a new job — or that she’s got a glamorous event to attend. Those insights should drive your next round of recommendations.

Customers grow more open to new tastes when the overall diet is tasty.

Just as kids are likely to enjoy new foods when you catch them in the right mood, they’re also far likelier to give a new food a chance if your previous recommendations have turned out to be delicious. When every new dish contains another mushy vegetable, kids may turn up their noses at dinner — but if they loved the colorful fruit you served them for lunch, they may be more willing to give peas a chance.

Your customers’ content diets follow the exact same principle: establish a reputation for serving up meaningful, relevant recommendations, and your subscribers will grow more receptive to products that fall slightly outside their usual tastes.

And if they don’t respond to a product suggestion this time, try waiting a few days, then offering it in a different context. Over time, your customers will learn that your content diet is a reliable source of tasty recommendations — and they’ll keep coming back to your brand, as surely as bees return to flowers every spring.

Customer data helps you better understand your audience’s tastes and preferences. See how to “Go Further with Data Management.”