Opinion: Brands must recalibrate for a world where product experimentation is a habit
The pandemic has ushered in a new shopper mentality that threatens marketing norms. Instead of trying a new brand periodically, more shoppers are trying new brands habitually. It started when consumers took what they could get as panic buying emptied shelves. Now it’s become an ongoing exploration, from methods of shopping to product and brand choices.
This spring, frozen food sales soared more than 30 percent across the industry, with more than 10 percent of buyers new to the category, according to Numerator. Sales of shelf-stable meals rose 93 percent with 13.4 percent new buyers. And McKinsey found that 50 percent of shoppers had tried a new brand this spring—33 percent experimented with household and food/beverage, 28 percent with personal care and 22 percent with wellness—and 48 percent will keep using the replacement.
When trial becomes a habit, marketers need to confront seismic challenges as a matter of routine. Trial isn’t just about getting new people to experience the brand anymore, it’s also about getting the same people to re-experience the brand anew, again and again. How can brands do it?
Create new ways to use
Every time you show consumers something else they can do with a product, you invite a fresh trial. Think recipes and usage occasions to demonstrate, rather than proclaim, the product’s point of difference. Spirits brands can put more elaborate recipes right on the bottle or box. This works as well for challenger brands trying to sustain share gains as it does for established brands fending off a private label.
Reinforce reasons to believe
If you have a social purpose and/or impact, now is the time to bring it forward throughout brand communications—especially if you have a premium to justify. Natural products can play up community and corporate social responsibility, carbon footprint and sustainability initiatives.
Work the whole funnel
Marketers need to connect consumer relationships with product opportunities. That means mapping engagement paths for consumers that start with brand ads, leveraging search, capitalizing on sponsored listings on e-commerce platforms, and energizing product pages.
Build awareness with targeted videos distributed through CTV, AVOD, and pre-roll placements. By tracking clicks, video completions, engagement and time spent, identify shoppers to re-target on paid social media. Give them tools to engage, such as branded pins, and buy shoppable ads; then feature the same products in sponsored ads on retailers’ e-commerce sites.
Test, test, and test
As consumption morphs, today’s live test is far more valuable than history-based modeling in setting a course for scale. Challenger brands can test and learn with abandon, while established brands need to monitor the differences between new and existing consumers more precisely. Both need to emphasize digital media, which is more readily tagged to compare the reactions of consumers exposed to different messages and offers.
Get in tone
Don’t remind people we’re in a pandemic in advertising, just embrace the new reality and portray things people can do now. And before anything goes out that even touches on social justice, check it thrice against the current of the conversation from the perspectives of multiple interest groups.
Continuously reinventing and re-communicating the practical value of a brand—what people can do with it—can expand and deepen its consumer base. Living in test mode can lead to unseen opportunities as usage redefines product occasions and combinations. And translating it all in line with community sentiments can keep an agency vital. Marketing will be better for it.