I was reading some data about to be released by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) in their Consumer Research on Processed Foods report.
It tells us that 87% of American consumers score taste at 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale of importance when buying food or beverage. Second comes price at 76% and third healthfulness at 62%.
These figures will come as no surprise to anybody. That taste is important in our choice of what we eat and drink is something of a no-brainer for those of us lucky enough to have choices. But what does the consumer mean when they say taste? How do we create the ‘best’ taste? How helpful is a development brief that says the product should taste ‘better’?
We can say the same for price and for healthfulness. Is cheaper always a better price? Do they really mean value? And if so, what is ‘better value’?
We have recently been working on a project that showed that consumers who understood more different ways of presenting and serving the product found it to be much better value than those that only knew one or two ways. Not only did the former buy more, they also thought the price point represented great value, while those that had a more limited view of how the product could be used had a less optimistic view of that same price point.
As for healthfulness the IFIC survey came up with the following figures:
84% of Americans say that a healthy diet is important to them. But what they consider to be a ‘healthy diet’ varies greatly: ‘High Protein’ being the leading contender at 18%, followed by ‘Mindful Eating’ at 17%, ‘Calorie Counting’ at 12%, ‘Clean Eating’ at 12% and ‘Intermittent Fasting’ also at 12%.
So, jumping onto the healthy bandwagon is just as confusing and difficult as getting the best flavour.
Data like this is essential in giving us a broad picture of the market and, if we have the figures across a period of time, it helps us to see the trends and the direction of travel.
But does it give us a greater understanding?
Does it tell us why these changes are happening or what consumers are really thinking when they make decisions for or against our brands and products?
It does not.
No matter how detailed the questionnaire, the data will only give us broad answers, a snapshot of time. It does not give us the insight and understanding that we need to tailor our products and our communication for our specific target consumers. For this we need deeper qualitative understanding.
But all too often I have seen qualitative research asking groups of consumers a standardised set of questions that skim across the surface of the issues at hand. Standardised questions tend to generate standardised answers. There may be a little more detail and understanding than from the quantitative data, but nothing that your competitor is not also finding and will be reflected in their product and comms. updates just as quickly as it is in yours.
When consumers say that they like the taste of a product, what they really mean is that they like the way that it makes them feel.
When a consumer picks a product because they believe it will be healthier, there needs to be something in the taste, texture or experience of that product that makes it ‘feel’ healthier than the alternative.
Value is not just about price, it is about how the product makes the consumer feel. If we feel good about a product, if it delivers everything we desire from it, we will happily pay a little more than for an alternative that feels cheap.
When you move from quantitative data to qualitative research to find a deeper understanding, to understand the why and how rather than just the what. Then you need research that starts with the consumers’ emotions – what is the emotional journey they are seeking from the product – and then connects this emotional journey back to their sensorial product experience. Which aspects of the communication and the sensorial product delivery cue which emotional responses and how can you tweak your communications and your product to deliver the best emotional journey for your consumer.
You will not gain these insights from superficial group discussions. It is detailed and painstaking work, but how much is a small % increase in your brand’s performance worth? More acutely, how much will you lose if your competitor beats you to it?
Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic:
Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands