If you’ve been following the trending news over the last couple of weeks or if you just really love cereal, you’ve heard that General Mills is bringing back artificial flavors to their Trix cereal after a huge announcement that they were taking the artificial flavors out of the cereal based on consumer feedback.
The original decision to make the switch to artificial colors came after a round of consumer feedback in which parents indicated that they prefer more natural ingredients in their food. Which doesn’t come as a huuugee shocker. We’ve seen a trend emerging among consumers to prefer healthier options, more natural ingredients, and a marketplace that provides healthier options. Over the past three years, we’ve seen at least a dozen major packaged food companies make the move to remove artificial food ingredients by the year 2018.
In-market, General Mills saw a different reaction. Consumers took to social media to report their outrage over the new Trix cereal. It turns out, they didn’t like the new healthier version and they wanted the old Trix back.
So, General Mills responded by offering both types of cereal — the new, healthier Trix with no artificial flavors or dyes and the original Trix with all the artificial flavors and dyes.
And the people are excited again.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen consumers announce demands for change, the brands respond, and the consumers say, yeah…no thanks. (e.g., when Coke made their biggest mistake ever by changing their centuries-old recipe…it went over like flat soda) No wonder digging into consumer insights can incite a fair amount of fear of the unknown. People aren’t amazing at knowing what they want. They typically are pros at telling us what they think they want. Silly humans.
So, is there a way to prevent this yes-no tango we do in consumer insights? There are certainly ways to mitigate the risk. Here are some guidelines:
Many consumer products, have an end-buyer and then a different end-user. In other words, the people buying the product aren’t necessarily the ones using it. In a consumer world, it’s important to talk to both sets of users. Despite the differing use-cases (e.g., the buyer and the user), identifying the key value propositions from both will create natural constraints that are necessary to adhere to in your transition.
People can have different motivators across very similar actions, yielding different outcomes. But people have a complex approach to decision-making and preferences. Moreover, people are really bad at telling you what they will do. Consider A/B testing to understand the way individuals make choices around your product or integrate more qualitative research methods to allow for deeper study into motivations and perceptions.
When looking at your industry and competitors, remember that replication is not innovation. Just because your competitors are doing it, doesn’t automatically mean you must follow in line. I am not suggesting that it is not important to keep up with the trends. I am, however, stressing the importance of understanding which trends are key for YOUR consumers. Consider this: not all trends apply.
The consumer base is accustomed to customization and, as a result, more fixed industries, such as the packaged-food industry, may find themselves in a bit of a conundrum. Is it advantageous for more fixed industries to customize all their options for every type of consumer? Eh. That likely depends on the industry and the product. There is a fine line between selecting customization and appearing to throw noodles at the wall to see what sticks. The latter is always a bad strategy.
Know your data. Consumer insights should always point back to your business strategy. When available, cross-reference your consumer insight data with your hard business metrics (e.g., sales cycle, revenue, profit margins, product success, etc). This will allow you to gut check the more subjective parts of the feedback.
Consider a trial run. Before a full market launch, do a few test iterations where you release a small batch of the new product without going full-monty change. Pay attention to the adoption rate and the feedback. After a few iterations and market success, you can jump in without fear of what is going to happen when in the wild.
In today’s connected consumer market with high expectations, brands can’t expect to launch with no consumer insight and data. In fact, consumer insight and data should always be a considerable part of your budget. In order to side-step miscalculations, it’s often key to cross-reference findings across data sets, leverage mixed methodologies to garner insight and validate and iterate throughout your process.