Have you been outmanoeuvred by a competitor brand?


We were working with a major international coffee brand as they established coffee in what had traditionally been a tea market. They had had a great degree of success establishing a strong presence with a low-cost starter brand and then migrating consumers across to more profitable premium brands.

Coffee was perceived to be stimulating and awakening and this resonated well with the aspirational, entrepreneurial, attitude in the market. The low-cost starter brand was recruiting large numbers that might otherwise have been tea drinkers and many of these were keen to – and be seen to – move up to the more premium and aspirational brands.

But with little competition in the market, our client had done little to tie the emotional benefits of coffee to the specific features of their brands.

So, when another international coffee company decided to launch into the market they took a specific feature of their brand – aroma – and promoted it heavily.

Suddenly consumers were migrating from our client’s starter brand to the competitor’s premium product. Our client was, in effect, recruiting new users for the competition.

The first lesson is not to promote category wide benefits without tying them specifically to unique features of your brand.

Our client had done a great job in promoting coffee as a stimulating, awakening product, it had great appeal in the market and had served them well up until this point. But now a major competitor had moved in, these benefits were seen as generic to coffee and the competitor was using its distinctive aroma to differentiate themselves from the products already in the market. Our client was losing a lot of share in the more profitable sector.

We had to find a way to make our client’s premium brands more attractive, more aspirational than the competitors. Both were strong international brands and both were good quality coffees.

So, we went back to understand the psychological drivers behind consumers’ desire to move up from the starter coffee to the premium brands. We psychologically profiled all the coffees to understand what the most important emotions were for different consumer groups and how these were prompted by the sensorial features of the coffees.

Of the key emotions that were driving consumer migration to the premium coffees we identified which were more strongly associated with specific sensorial features of our client’s premium coffees and why.

So, instead of just picking one or two emotions that were, in fact, category benefits, we chose two emotions that we had identified as driving migration and that we knew our client could take ownership of because, once they communicated this to consumers, we knew that their consumption experience would confirm that these coffees delivered those emotions better than the competitors.

Thus, our client took ownership of the key emotions that we knew were driving premiumisation in the market. Successfully outmanoeuvring the competitor that had previously outmanoeuvred them.

Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic:

Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands