Looking for an Authentic Spark

As you know, perception is reality for shoppers. Relying on traditional concept evaluation tools presents a challenge; concepts are already fully explained before the consumer can share their thoughts even with more iterative, on-trend methodologies. Yet, concept understanding at-shelf is essentially a barometer of how much effort and cost will be required to gain traction.

Concepts are successful when they are seen, understood, valued, and deliver on expectations. As a company that specializes in in-context research, REAL Insight takes the lead in determining if packaging is noticeable on shelf, answering questions on consumer perceptions and gauging concept understanding.

unnamed (2)When learning about packaging impact, concepts are surrounded by likely shelf-mates. In this unique, in-context testing environment, we often gain significant understanding around category assumptions and concept performance. However, we are frequently brought in when innovation projects are nearing launch. At this last stage in the process, we frequently see concepts heavily challenged by ingrained assumptions or hard-to-rectify first moment of truth issues. Prioritizing at-shelf learning earlier can be beneficial for more nuanced concept testing and a successful launch.

With few product launches having significant marketing support out-of-aisle, these offerings need to be intuitive on-shelf to more easily gain traction. Understanding concept performance is helpful in prioritizing projects and determining what type of launch may be needed for success.

unnamed (1)To truly win in the category and gain insight to the degree of enthusiasm, the harsh reality of the typical CPG retail category needs to be accounted for: effective concepts need to change a behavior and prove they are a better solution than competing options. Seeing a shopper’s emotional reaction upon discovering a new product—bright smiles and eyes lighting up—is significant.

REAL Insight has the solutions to help gain early-on concept learning in-store without requiring significant prototype creation or sharing concept ideas with retail buyer partners until needed and keeps in mind already tight marketing budgets. Consider it a companion data point to the other quantitative concept work you are already doing or as an alternative to commonly used speed-dating approaches; a complement that will be highly valuable in setting expectations and appropriately prioritizing ideas.

Ready to learn more? Reach out to Luke for more details!

 

The Myth of Novelty

hitMakersAnother key note speaker at the Corporate Researchers conference was Derek Thompson, author of Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.  I was particularly struck by his analysis around the myth of novelty which directly impacts some of our innovation work. He describes this as “people like sneakily familiar positive variations of things of a moderate deviation to the mainstream”.  There are obvious exceptions to this claim, but for the large companies we work with who have teams searching for “breakthrough innovation,” the truth is that the vast majority of shoppers aren’t looking for something radically different.

We are uncomfortable with that.  We need a jumping off point.  A parallel comparison.



In our work, we frequently encounter this myth in action. Shoppers want to compare the offering to something they know and put it in a familiar mental “box”, which can impede their abilities to fully grasp the true essence of what they are looking at.  Product placement can further disrupt understanding in categories with inherent norms and assumptions; where a product is placed can be an advocate for similar-to-norm products or a hurdle to overcome for products that depart from the standard and are seeking to combat ingrained expectations.

Thompson would argue marketers should focus their attention on products that would qualify as familiar surprises—just enough familiarity to make shoppers comfortable with just enough surprise to make the product feel unique and novel.  That will require the least amount of effort with the greatest amount of impact.  For real breakthrough innovation to occur the runway to adoption can be very long and the cost of generating awareness and changing behavior can be very expensive; for publicly traded companies in such a challenging business environment, many big brands simply don’t have the ability to be patient.

Check out our Innovation Solutions

How do you determine if a product is innovative enough to be seen as unique without being alienating due to its uniqueness?  I am glad you asked.  We have a methodology for vetting concepts in-context early in the development process to see which ones spark yet are understood.

You may find it familiar, yet surprising.

The Power of Moments

Recently, I had a great three days at the Corporate Researchers Conference in Chicago. It was a blast to nerd out with fellow researchers, and it was hugely validating to both our primary focus on in-context research and some of the key initiatives we have been working on for the last couple of years. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my thoughts, analysis, and implications on a few of the more meaningful presentations/themes from the conference.

PEAK PRODUCTION

the-power-of-moments-9781501147760_hr

Dan Heath gave a memorable presentation highlighting some of the principles talked about in his book, The Power of Moments, which has broad-reaching implications ranging from improving customer service to innovation.  The foundational premise Dan focused on is that we don’t remember every aspect of every experience; the peak-end rule indicates that we, in fact, remember only the moments that were best and worst. As such, fixing most problems generally doesn’t make people happy; it just produces an unremarkable, unmemorable, unappreciated experiences.

Often the next step teams take is filling the potholes by dealing with the smaller issues. While it can be important to fix what is missing in a product or experience, the focus should instead be on creating some peak moments that are the unexpected, unique, and/or special aspects of a product or experience that will be remembered and lead to consumer/customer delight and retention.

IMPLICATIONS

  • Overall, there is a tremendous need for a qualitative understanding (surprise!) to tap into emotional reactions and to understand what about the experience or product stuck with them.  REAL Insight has developed a “Spark Scale” for testing new concepts that is focused on understanding which products have something remarkable (memorable) about them.  Not all aspects of a product or experience are equal in the eyes of customers, so it is critical to be able to weigh the emotional reaction to understand which aspects, if any, are the true drivers of interest and loyalty and which are just along for the ride.
  • These peak moments aren’t anticipated by the experiencer/consumer, but rather something that they discover within the actual environment and moment.  For this reason, context is huge and understanding actual behavior is huge.  Don’t ask about how someone would react to a scenario.  Create a test scenario and have someone actually react to see what peak moments are produced.
  • From an innovation standpoint, with so many decisions to make in terms of investment and key success drivers, peak moments can simplify the risk.  If there is a delighting feature that can act as a peak, smaller issues and inconveniences can be deprioritized. Identifying which of these features are worth investing in and which function as “filling the pot holes” decreases the risk of adding to product cost without actually adding any value.

By thinking about the innovation and customer experience as building memorable peak moments, there is a huge opportunity to invest smarter for optimal success and retention. Doing so will, in the words of Dan Heath, “defy forgettable flatness”.

 

Luke

Healthy Versus “Healthy”

The New York Times recently released an article detailing the differences between what nutritionists think is healthy versus what the general public believes is better for you. While a difference between the public and nutritionists is to be expected, NYT discovered quite a disparity in ranking within each group as well. Certain foods obviously ranked high (e.g. kale, chicken, oranges) and others were solidly in the low camp (e.g. chocolate chip cookies, white bread). The most interesting, however, are the foods that divided the public and nutritionists and just how those perceptions came to be.

Overwhelmingly, granola bars were the food that most divided the public from expert opinions, with 71% of consumer ranking them as “healthy” versus 28% of nutritionists. Granola, too, fell into a similar disparity, with 80% of the public ranking it has healthy versus 47% of experts. On the opposite side, 89% of nutritionists ranked quinoa as “healthy” while only 58% of the public agreed. So, where do these divisions come from?

On the quinoa side, it is probably safe to say that as an upcoming “superfood,” there is a large percent of the population that is still unfamiliar with the product (or stopped trying after being unable to figure out how to pronounce it).  Granola and granola bars, however, have been a “healthy” snack that has been popular for years and continues to find itself a staple in many American pantries.  Being that what is “healthy” and what is not flip-flops on nearly a daily basis, it is safe to say that marketing plays a considerable role in these public perceptions.  And by what we’re seeing here with public opinion, it’s working.

As a market research firm, REAL Insight is well versed in what cues “healthy” to a consumer and what will lead them to think the opposite. There is certain language and positioning that paints products in the perfect light that assures shoppers feel that what they are purchasing is good for them. Granola bars are a good example of a product that highlights the right qualities to appeal to its target audience.

While one could criticize the health halo that granola has granted itself, there is a second, perhaps more important takeaway from this survey. There are healthy and nutritional items that the public can purchase and consume. However, without cues as to how these items will benefit the consumer or assuage a need, their chances of going into the cart are slim. Where a box of granola bars will have claims leaping off the package about its benefits, a bulk bag of quinoa never will. Though as of today, only 58% of the public see quinoa as healthy, time (and marketing) will tell how that perception may change.

-Sarah Morrison, Communication Strategist & Mary Dolan O’Brien, Project Coordinator

Saving Cereal

Sales in the cereal category have fallen, and companies are trying to gain intuition around how to hold onto their current consumers and bring back some of those they have lost. In general, people are eating breakfast differently. They’re saving the first meal of the day for work or are reaching for yogurt, breakfast sandwiches, or bars. But for Milliennials, the access to variety isn’t what is changing their breakfast habits. The need for convenience may be what is preventing them from eating cereal for breakfast. For Millennials, it seems that washing a bowl is too much work.

So, is this attitude truly born out of laziness and, if so, where does it come from? Roberto A. Ferdman suggests that this mindset is more the result of the inherent busyness of households with two working adults.  Fuller family schedules allow for less time to cook and clean. Even more so, when most of these adults were expected to do chores as a child, only 28% of them ask the same of their children. Rather than changing their lifestyles to fit their food choices, Millennials are looking for foods that fit their lifestyles. With this in mind, focusing on convenience will be important, especially for industries like cereal that are trying to adjust to the changing times.

However, as companies address rising trends and falling sales, it is important to keep the “why” at the forefront when reinventing, revitalizing, or creating products.  When crafting solutions, it is imperative to first understand the root of the problem.  For instance, are Millennials too lazy to wash a dirty bowl or are they transitioning to other options due to health reasons, better benefits from other products, or something else? A product developed solely on the hypothesis that Millennials would use cereal if it was convenient might miss an opportunity to pivot on an alternate reason for the drop in usage. Companies need to understand this consumer mindset before launching new products and packaging; bringing consumer perspectives to life will help our clients to uncover the real needs of their consumers.

-Beth Wogen, Associate Project Director

Introducing Brewed Insight Sessions by REAL Insight!

As a company specializing in in-context research, the lack of authenticity tied with traditional facility studies has often made them a less-than-ideal methodology. Especially now, as Millennials become the favorite targeted audience, the synthetic rapport of old-fashioned focus groups can be a barrier to truly understanding this target consumer.  They are harder to find, less willing to jump through the proverbial hoops, and are more affected by sterility.

With a desire for a more authentic, empathy-building environment (and inspired by our NE Minneapolis location), we recently fielded a project that overcame many of those challenges with focus groups and promptly tagged it a Brewed Insight Session. With a study structure created and facilitated by our team, and a taproom provided by a nearby microbrewery, we successfully introduced this new and promising methodology into our repertoire of in-context research.

Brewed Insight Sessions deliver strongly on understanding who a consumer is. (*Note, it isn’t  intended to be a solution for business questions better answered by observing buying or usage behavior.) In a relaxed, less-formal setting, consumers are more comfortable engaging in real conversations and honest sharing. This casual atmosphere is essential to create and maintain; therefore the facilitator/moderator must be someone who is able to keep the laidback vibe alive. Empathy and intuition building are imperative these days, and the environment created at a Brewed insight Session is designed specifically with these goals in mind. 

The time and activity breakdown can be structured a number of different ways, based on the specific project objectives, but our recommended method begins with a lead facilitator guiding the group through a few topics and then having time for small group breakouts with the client team. As there is no two-way mirror to hide behind, training and managing the client team is very important. However, the benefit is the team being able to directly interact with the consumers. Another point to consider is, though a little alcohol can help with the mood and authenticity of the session, it is important to have a plan for how to make sure things don’t get too loose. Our facilitators and moderators are effective at providing this plan, as well as offering any additional team training that may be required.

The Twin Cities, like many cities nationwide, have felt the impact of the brewery and distillery explosion. With such a large pool of locations available (and the consistent availability of these spaces early in the week), there is an abundance of options for fielding this type of research. If you are interested in learning more about Brewed Insight Sessions or want to partner on a similar type of project, please feel free to reach out to me at lcahill@insightrealized.com

-Luke Cahill, Managing Principal

Consumers Continue to Court Convenience

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Instacart is an app-based service that allows customers to order groceries from a number of different retailers in their area with just a few taps of the finger. After filling a digital cart, users then arrange for home delivery at a time convenient to them. While available for larger metropolitan areas, those outside of the delivery range have been left without access to the service. However, in March 2016, Whole Foods and Instacart announced an expanded partnership with the goal of increasing the number of Whole Foods stores with dedicated Instacart shoppers up to 50% by the end of 2016 while also expanding into areas that have yet to experience the convenience.

As shoppers move towards buying less and less in stores, it will be fascinating to see how CPG companies will react to these changes. Products and their packages are often optimized to draw consumer interest, whether it’s a new product hoping to be purchased or a tried and true favorite hoping to maintain its popularity. But oftentimes, these optimizations are made to attract shoppers standing in front of a shelf. As Instacart and similar apps become more and more popular, it will be interesting to see how studies change when objectives turn from “how much shelf appeal does this product have” to “how much app-appeal does this product have?”

In a world with Amazon Prime and the even speedier PrimeNow (in some markets) shoppers are clearly enamored with the convenience of fast delivery, especially if it’s same day. With the popularity of online shopping on the rise, in-context research will have to take on a whole new lens in order to remain on top of how shoppers choose products. If people are making their purchases through an app, wouldn’t it make sense that, in time, research on these purchases will be done in the same way? With our extensive experience in online and mobile methodologies, it will be interesting to see how much more these methods will come into play, and how they will evolve as customers shop more and more from their couch.

-Jennifer Carrasco, Associate Project Director

Your Macaroni Isn’t What You Think It Is

In a surprising announcement, Kraft has revealed that their most loyal customers have been purchasing a new formula of the “Blue Box” macaroni and cheese they’ve loved for decades. The biggest revelation from this announcement? Barely anyone has noticed.

History has shown that when a new formula for a favorite product is unveiled, there’s often a backlash that may or may not be warranted (see: New Coke). When Kraft Heinz decided to remove the artificial preservatives and dyes from one of their top-selling products, they decided to keep it relatively quiet. They made a small announcement and shortly after, customers were complaining that “they thought the mac and cheese tasted different when, in reality, they were still eating the previous version.” So after that initial announcement, KH didn’t say anything further about the new formula’s roll-out.

The new formula has been on shelves since December, and unless a shopper has been diligent about reading labels, the change has gone unnoticed until now, with Kraft Heinz’s launch of a campaign announcing the change. Time will tell how consumers will react to this news as the change becomes better known, but as it stands, shoppers have been eating the new formula with no complaint.

What is so fascinating here is that while consumers are requesting less artificial ingredients in their foods, companies are concerned that these same shoppers won’t be satisfied with the new products. Just knowing that a formula is “new” is enough for consumers to project a different taste, texture, and eating experience onto a product that may not even be there. As CPG companies start to consider reformulating their products to include more natural ingredients, perhaps they will follow the macaroni and cheese model and keep quiet about it as consumers acclimate to the new product. Shoppers want to consume products that are better for them; it just might be even better if they don’t know about it.

-Sarah Morrison, Research Associate

Beneficial Beverages Bust Big Brand Barriers!

Choices in the beverage category have changed dramatically from Coke or Pepsi. Words like “natural energy,” “cold-pressed,” and “probiotic” are cropping up in every day drink conversation. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that traditional beverages are losing ground to niche concepts. High sugar beverages, such as soda, are on the decline as better for you beverages move in to the category. These BFY beverages are heavy hitters with claims such as satiety, energy, and nutrition. This shift signals a change in shopper desire. Consumers want more than just refreshment; they want additional benefits. The challenge is for a beverage to give its functional claim mainstream/broad appeal in a competitive category.

One example of a beverage giant testing out the waters of BFY beverage claims is Gatorade’s announcement of an organic line. Organic purchasing behavior has been steadily increasing and Gatorade hopes their new line will be a way to reach those shoppers. Consumers increasingly demand organic products, but at the same time, lack clarity and understanding as to what organic means or what constitutes an organic product. A popular way of thinking is simply that organic means healthy. By launching this new line, Gatorade hopes to capitalize on this belief that their organic line will be a “healthier” version of their popular sports drink. With 71% of consumers wanting to avoid artificial flavors and colors, Gatorade (and its parent company PepsiCo), along with other traditional, artificial-friendly companies like Coca-Cola, will need to reformulate their products to buy in to this perception of being “healthier,” while still delivering on their iconic taste.

Keep in mind, however, that Gatorade’s entrance into a more health-focused sector is not a novel idea. Since its founding in 2012, ASPIRE Beverage Company has offered athletes a low-calorie and low-sugar sport drink alternative with no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Finding success largely through grassroots efforts, Aspire has utilized a marketing approach that involves the very athletes they wish to target. After turning down a national distribution offer from Target—at the risk of getting too big, too fast—Aspire opted to involve those using their products and have enlisted student athletes as brand ambassadors that raise product awareness across the United States. They plan to grow their brand organically and educate their consumers at the same time, rather than capitalize on a trend merely for a profit. Obviously, Aspire has the same goal as Gatorade—to sell more sport drinks—but ultimately, co-founder John Montague hopes to “solve the problem” of people “drinking junk in the name of sports.”

All these factors combine to create a very fascinating category, which has been experiencing explosive varietal growth in the last few years. As old school beverages decline, it will be curious to see how current trends (e.g. probiotics, natural energy sources) fit in corporate innovation; when niche market products experience such an increase in sales, how many eggs does one put in that basket moving forward? Are people buying that drink because they understand what a probiotic is and what, explicitly, that is going to do for their body? Is that shopper particular that her beverage exceeds 10 grams of protein exactly? Many micro trends move mainstream, but understanding the functional need or perceived benefit behind them may be more beneficial to big brands, rather than just copy-catting the niche products.

-Jessica Fisher, Project Director

Edited By: Sarah Morrison