For the new product – whether a startup or a venture from a large corporation – finding consumer advocates is essential. If one in three startup businesses fail within the first three years, then in the food and drink sector, where almost every new product requires a significant pre-launch investment of time and money, this is an especially major problem. They lack the vast marketing budgets of the large corporates, so they rely heavily on their most avid consumers to increase awareness and drive sales and get those all-important multiple listings. If cultivated correctly, these advocates can do the work of an entire highly paid marketing department.
So, how can a new product recruit advocates? It’s far from easy. For most new products, it’s hard enough persuading consumers to notice the product, let alone try it, become loyal to it, or start recommending it to friends and family. In the fleeting half-second between a shopper noticing a new product among the familiar ones, there’s the opportunity to make or break a fledgling business. Yet, it can be done.
Food products such as PepsiCo’s Sunbites, or independent Higgidy Pies and David & Oliver, were all once strange imposters on shelves packed with well-known brands, and they succeeded in turning that half-second from one of rejection into a magical moment where they make a connection and begin the process of creating an advocate.
New food and drink products have three vital jobs to do if they want to replicate the success of those companies.
Job number one: Achieve credible on-shelf standout.
In 2007, Walkers, the UK’s No 1 crisps and snacks manufacturer, had launched Sunbites, a savoury snack containing a third of your daily recommended amount of whole grain in each portion and 30% lower in fat than standard crisps.
Although it experienced high repeat purchase rates in the ‘Better For You’ segment, indicating that consumers who tried the product loved it, the packaging was putting off consumers who considered taste alongside health in their food purchases; it wasn’t achieving credible shelf standout.
The original packaging had been entirely focused on emphasising the whole grain content of the product. Changing this to an exciting, colourful illustrative style and language to reflect just how tasty, light and enjoyable Sunbites actually are and to engage new consumers who were attracted to the idea of trialling a healthier, tastier snack, had an almost immediate impact.
Given that a pack change on an existing brand often sees an initial fall in sales as consumers unfamiliar with the new identity fail to see ‘their brand’, it was impressive to see Nielsen sales data revealing a 26% uplift in sales for the first three months. The Millward Brown Tracking data also told a very positive story. Consumers’ perception of the brand, reflected in the ‘Brand Regard’ measure increased by 23% in just 12 weeks after the new packs were introduced.
This was no short-term spike. Sales of Sunbites have risen from £8m before the rebrand to more than £40m now. This success began by getting noticed on shelf.
Job number two: Get from shelf to basket by communicating desirability.
To be noticed isn’t the same as to be bought. A brand can be garish and stand out on-shelf, but if it incites indifference or even revulsion, it’s not going to succeed. It must be desirable enough for the shopper to pick it up and put it in the basket.
This can be done in a number of ways. Brands need to think carefully about how the on-pack visuals (product imagery, colours, logo, and so on), as well as the copy they use to describe themselves. What product attributes do they want to convey? What tone do they want to adopt?
Sometimes, there’s a simple solution. For example, when in 2006, Higgidy Pies, which had built a £500,000 turnover selling its premium pies into deli counters and multiples such as Eat, gained a listing in Sainsbury’s, it redesigned its packaging, bringing in a range of fresh brand attributes mainly focused around Camilla (who bakes the pies): her personality, her enthusiasm, her brilliant pies. Yet, it also introduced a window so shoppers could see the pies. This not only shows the quality of the product, but is an approach that’s unique in the sector. Ultimately, the Higgidy brand promises pies that are as good as you would make for your own family. The window was the vehicle to convey the desirability of the product. Sales grew so that the company now turns over more than £20m and has just doubled its production capacity.
Job number three: Give your consumers a story to share and make them advocates.
People love stories. We love hearing them, and crucially we love sharing them. If your brand gives people who have tried the product and liked it – a story they can pass on to their friends and family – then it’s well on its way to creating brand advocates.
Chefs and former flatmates David Holliday and Oliver Shute had for many years spent their spare time travelling in their van around the British countryside, sourcing wild game and turning it into delicious soups, stocks and pasta sauces. In 2011, they decided to turn their hobby into a business and David Oliver was launched.
They knew they were tapping into a growing food movement. More and more people are turning away from the mass-produced farm-bred meat and towards a more traditional, sustainable version. Yet, by 2013, it was clear the business wasn’t taking off as it should.
A major problem was that its brand and on-pack design was only reaching people who already eat game. The ‘Country Life’ visuals and copy were, in the magical half-second, alienating the affluent urban experimenters who don’t currently eat wild game but would if they knew about it. So, the first change was to insert ‘and’ into the name. ‘David Oliver’ sounded too formal, too staid. ‘David & Oliver’ brought the brand back down to earth. In terms of the visuals, introducing a countryside green dials up the British heritage along with iconic tweed jackets and caps. A new slogan ‘Wild about Britain’ emphasises the British source, and highlights the passion of the brand.
Splitting the name also allowed the introduction of the two characters, David and OIiver, who are the embodiment of the brand. The logo, now full of life, tells the story of David and Oliver. It excites the customer, portraying exactly where the ingredients have come from and are going to.
Again, this investment in branding paid off. David & Oliver is now listed in Waitrose, it’s adding ready meals (duck cassoulet and venison lasagne) to the range, and is expanding into export markets such as France and Belgium. Most vitally, it now has a small army of brand advocates up and down the country who are enthusiastically retelling the story of David and Oliver, two entrepreneurs who dared to do something different. The product, just like Sunbites and Higgidy Pies, now succeeds in that vital half-second.
Adrian Collins is MD at Ziggurat Brands, an identity and innovation consultancy. This is a personal blog and views expressed are his own.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2023