You’re the leading branded FMCG player in your market. You are a well-known and respected company with a long heritage of consistently outperforming other major brands. Yet, despite this heritage, you are underperforming in one market segment that is showing strong growth. Bryan Urbick explores how to capture share of a lucrative and growing market.

Your competitors have not noticeably stepped up the promotion of their products and no significant new player has entered the market. You embark on a new advertising campaign, and although this has brought some success, it is not sufficient to change the buying habits of consumers. How do you progress to capture share of a lucrative and growing market?

This is the situation facing many companies – of course, to varying degrees – particularly those competing in commoditized sectors where products are largely undifferentiated in the minds of most consumers. These are the sectors in which little thought goes into the purchase decision; the sectors in which consumers rarely browse and brand choice is generally being made out of habit prior even to entering the store.

In the current economic climate, genuine opportunities can be few and far between. How companies grow often depends on how they capitalize on those opportunities presented. Clearly identifying consumers’ key drivers behind the purchase decision is imperative if brand managers are to develop cohesive and consistent marketing strategies relating to what their product or brand should stand for – all the more in sectors with little to no emotional stand-out. It is precisely here that communication points may address issues that are important and motivating to consumers, yet still fail to deliver because they lack the “ownability” needed to make the brand stand out among competitors.

Marketing teams often make the mistake of leveraging key product attributes such as organic, environmentally friendly and fair trade…

With products that are bought on a regular basis, from canned sweet corn to many staple household cleaning products, the primary barrier to change is usually habit. The purchase decision is often rooted in the routine of buying the brand they (and often even their parents or grandparents) have always purchased. In the food category, whilst they may be perfectly satisfied with the quality of competitive brands, their lack of experience of these products can translate into a fear of risking a signature dish or family recipe using a brand with which they are not familiar.

Marketing teams often make the mistake of leveraging key product attributes such as organic, environmentally friendly and fair trade, these alone are not sufficient to disrupt buying habits for most consumers. These terms do regularly crop up in qualitative research discussions, though while they can be important, they are usually not ownable and therefore offer limited differentiation.  What is required are stronger links to compelling higher-order consumer benefits that will trigger at-shelf purchase disruptions. It is vital for a brand to connect deeply with the target consumer in order to uncover these all-important disruptive points of inspiration.

Historically, creating brand or product excitement has been exclusive to those products that are consumed in an emotional way – think chocolate, beer, wine, even shampoo. It is hard to get all enthusiastic over a pack of kitchen rolls and washing-up liquid hardly causes a shiver down the spine. Yet it is the very fact that they have been left, unloved, on the shelf for decades, and their sole ‘raison d’etre’ is that they are ‘essential’ to most household cupboards that actually fills them with potential.  Marketers rarely get excited at the thought of promoting a can of asparagus beyond coupons and special offers.  Yet if they sought to find out how their consumers used their product; if they cared to listen, watch and extrapolate, they may realize that they actually could substantially grow.  This is by simply defining the unique product story that resonates with their target consumers. And yes, there always is one – though some are more difficult to unearth!

It is all about uncovering the hidden barriers which stop some customers buying one brand and defining, beyond mere habit, deep-rooted purchasing decisions that exist in a category which ultimately has very little differentiation.  Before marketers can hope to shift a customer’s existing mindset, they need to know what triggers the purchasing decision at conscious and perhaps subconscious levels.

If, as earlier indicated, the biggest barrier to change in these categories is habit, then we need to build up expectations and offer reassurances. What if a brand were to change the way it packs, delivers and/or prepares its product, presenting these changes in a manner that not only ‘shocks’ the consumer into noticing them but immediately gives them a sense of reassurance and greater expectations?  A genuine change – an “ownable” change – can give a brand a new halo. Suddenly the barriers to using the specific brand have dropped substantially.

Before marketers can hope to shift a customer’s existing mindset, they need to know what triggers the purchasing decision at conscious and perhaps subconscious levels.

As with all research projects, we are always searching for much more than what the customer believes to be true. Deep dive techniques work best in these scenarios because the habit of using a product runs so deep the customer reaches for that product almost subconsciously, without giving it much thought. We need to have a good message to disrupt that habit and the alternative we offer needs to resonate with the key reasons why they started purchasing their preferred product in the first place.

As consumers we all suffer from a certain amount of healthy ‘neophobia’ – fear or distrust of the new. Finding appropriate disruptive directions requires getting the brand strategy in sync with consumer ethos – and remembering that sometimes the least exciting brand categories have the most untapped brand cues just waiting to be uncovered.

By Bryan Urbick

About the author

Bryan Urbick, founder and CEO of Consumer Knowledge Centre, was part of the team that won an ARF Ogilvy GOLD Award 2012 for insight work on the HUNT’S canned tomato brand leading to award-winning communication that significantly grew the brand in a commoditized category.