by Chirag Buch, director – service line lead, Ipsos in UAE
Imagine if M&Ms were black or if Fanta was a beige-coloured drink. What if Snickers had a smooth texture or McDonalds was a fine dining restaurant? Difficult to imagine and feel these brands differently, right?
Why do M&M and Fanta exude ‘fun’ imagery while Snickers gives you the feeling of wholesomeness, whereas McDonalds puts you amidst your family?
Most brand strategists will tell you that this is how the brand equity and positioning have been built over years. However, one less talked about reason, that is equally instrumental in the success of these brands, is the alignment of functional product characteristics with the social and emotive codes of the brand. The multiple coloured M&Ms, bright orange Fanta, nutty Snickers or the décor inside McDonald’s contribute to the overall brand aura. One reason why so many innovations fail to deliver on their promise is the lack of alignment of the functional product characteristics, ie., taste, colour, pack etc. with the brand’s social, personality and emotive positioning.
Innovations that align the layers of brand image better are more likely to succeed than those initiatives that only focus on creating a superior tasting, smelling or looking product.
All sensory elements like taste, touch, fragrance etc. activate our senses in an emotive way. Hence, when doing a new product sensory evaluation, it’s imperative that consumers not only like the taste or smell of the product but also evoke the right emotion that the brand wishes to communicate. This is important since strong brands have a coherent delivery across all layers of the brand image, such as emotive, personality, social and functional.
Hence, it’s not enough to know on a like-ability scale, how much consumers like the smell of a new product. It’s equally important to know whether the smell is sharp/intense (high energy/extroverted space) or warm/soft/natural (affiliative codes) or very subtle/neat (sophistication / discernment) since each of these are different emotive spaces that the brand might be operating in, and the product functionality should be aligned with such brand positioning.
A lot of sensory product evaluations involving taste as well, fall short in articulating the corresponding emotive response that the product evokes. When a participant says ‘I like a product very much’ or it has the right sweetness, it is merely a comment on the functional element of ‘taste’ of the product but does not qualify the taste any further. Researchers need to start capturing other sensory elements that are more emotive viz. taste that makes one feel energized/stimulated or taste that is balanced/moderate, taste that is luxurious, rich, indulgent or tastes that is ordinary, every day.
While the functional parameters like sweetness, creaminess spreadability etc. help R&D teams to improve a product, the more emotive sensory experiences help brand and communication teams to gauge whether the product delivery is aligned to the brand positioning and promise.
Think about packaging – another critical but less researched element of the marketing mix. Given that a pack is the first moment of truth with the consumer, brands need to invest more in aligning the pack design with overall brand positioning.
An ‘everyday’ brand of laundry detergent should have a simple/practical pack that uses a sturdy pack material vs. a premium, an efficacious brand should have elegant stylish packaging that uses more tough or substantial pack material. In this case, the product (detergent), the pack and the brand will have an alignment that depicts coherent brand imagery.
Traditional research approaches assess innovation potential (product or concept) in terms of appeal. While this is a necessary condition for the innovation to succeed, it’s not sufficient to guarantee success in the long run. Successful brands can align the functional delivery of these innovations with that the emotive positioning of brands. A strong product can fail in the market if the brand promise is underwhelming and vice versa.
Hence, next time when consumers tell you that they like that coffee taste, assess how they find the taste to be. If it’s pleasant, attractive, alluring, rich, authentic, pure, balanced, stimulating or refreshing to them. The seamless alignment of ‘type’ of taste with overall brand imagery is a better recipe for success than the functional like-ability of only taste.