Every company has its product experts, people who know the product. They know where it comes from, how it evolved to what it is now. They understand your competitors and they can explain the regional differences in expectations of and liking for different aspects opf your product.
When, as inevitably happens, you start to lose preference in one area or across markets, they are the people who will be called up[on to make the essential product tweaks that will regain your sales and market position. And because they know what they are doing, they tend to be very successful at doing so.
However, sometimes this tried and tested formula does not work, sometimes, despite their carefully thought-out strategies and despite the preference testing that said they should work, you are still losing market share.
There may be a number of reasons, but it is almost definitely not because your product experts are losing their touch. They have done what they always do and has always worked before.
It is more likely because something more fundamental has changed in the market, something has prompted a change in attitude and expectations in the consumer. They are looking for something different in the product.
Tweaking the sweetness, the bitterness, the flavour intensity… works well when a local taste palate is evolving and you just need to keep pace, but when there has been a more fundamental change in consumer expectations you need to do something more radical and the consumer is unlikely to be able to tell you what that is.
It happens more often than you might expect. A surge in media stories about the origins, the health or environmental impact of the product, a new competitor in the market that changes consumer expectations, or a market shock that impacts consumer attitudes (such as a pandemic or a Cost of Living Crisis) can all have significant impacts on how consumers respond even to very familiar products.
So the consumer is looking for something different. They may not even realise it themselves, they just know that the old favourate seems a little jaded, out of date and product x just seems better now.
When asked, they will probably tell you that your product is still fine and will reject any changes you offer them, but they are still not buying it like they used to.
The paradigm has shifted and unless you can get hold of what has changed and how you can fix it, you are in for a gradual loss of market share and a declining brand.
The change, the paradigm shift, may be measurable in terms of declining sales, but it is not, in itself, a tangible observable event. It is in the minds of the consumers.
The only way to really understand and thus respond to this shift is to track the consumers’ emotional response to your product, to recognise where you are falling short in terms of their revised expectations and identify how you can change your sensorial delivery and/or communications to meet these new expectations.
Tracking and understanding the consumers emotional journey and how and why it is delivered by their sensorial journey requires a different approach, something that gets beneath consumers’ rational reponses and gets into the psychology and behavioural aspects of the changes.
Once you adopt this approach it soon becomes clear “why” your product is losing share and also “how” you can adjust your product or comms to best meet consumers’ changing needs and finally turn around your declining brand.
Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic:
Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands