Turning round a declining brand.


Turning around a declining brand is not easy, especially when the real reasons for brand decline are hidden deep within the psychological relationship your consumer has with your brand.

We all talk about consumers’ emotions but how deeply do we understand their whole psychological relationship with our category and our brand?

Milk Pak was the first UHT milk to market in Pakistan and had always held the greatest market share benefiting from its first to market status. But as competitive products proliferated and prices were cut Milk Pak was losing market share and the market was commoditising.

Nestlé asked The Marketing Clinic to try to identify an emotional positioning for Milk Pak to differentiate it from its competitors and support a premium price positioning.

In order to understand anything about the milk market in Pakistan first you need to understand the traditional production and distribution system.

Milk is produced by individual producers. Many rural families will own a few buffalo, cows, and/or goats. They collect the milk from their own animals and take it to a central collection point in their village. Here it is all tipped in together – all the milk from buffalo, cows and goats is tipped in together.

Then along comes a collection lorry touring all the local villages and the milk is tipped into here and transported to the appropriate urban centre where it is then distributed to the retail outlets. The daytime temperature could be 40 degrees Celsius but these collection lorries are not temperature-controlled. In recognition of this fact, the collection lorry will often be loaded up with ice before it sets out to help keep the milk cool. Yes, the tank contains a load of frozen water to which the milk is added.

It is a traditional part of the Pakistani family routine that the wife/mother rises early before the rest of the family and goes out to purchase the days milk. She carries this home and the first thing that she must do is boil it all in order to sterilize it and ensure that it will last the day. She will then divide it into a number of pots and containers for the different functions for which it will be needed that day. Now it is time to wake the kids and get them ready for school.

This is one of the traditional roles of wife and mother. One of the ways that a new wife shows her love and commitment to the family is when she takes over this task from her new mother-in-law. It is important that the first glasses of warm milk are ready for the children to drink before they set of for school and that the milk is ready for her husband’s first cup of tea when he gets up.

So, when a researcher calls round to ask the lady her experience, likes and dislikes about milk in her life the universal answer is to discuss her frustration and mistrust of the supply chain. You never know what you are getting, how much buffalo milk is in the mix, how much cows’ and goat. How much has it been diluted by the ice, how creamy or watery will it be? How much has the milk began to sour before I can boil it?

This variability can be critical as it affects the quality of the tea that is made with the milk – and we knew from a previous project in Pakistan that the wife’s ability to make tea just the right way is very important.

It took much more artful questioning and a much longer route around the subject for the women to talk about the process of collecting, boiling and dividing the milk every morning. Tradition is very strong in Pakistan, expectations are passed down the generations. To confess that they would rather stay in bed a little longer and not have to do this was akin to confessing to being a bad wife, mother and daughter-in-law, to the shirking of their responsibilities.

Nestlé and other organizations, however, did offer an alternative. They had modern collection systems collecting from identified farms with consistent cold chain and they sterilized the milk offering cartons of consistent UHT milk.

This UHT milk relieved mum of the burden of rising early to buy, boil and sort the milk and gave her the consistency of quality and taste that she required. But, in the eyes of the matriarchal mother-in-law, such motivations were a shirking of a traditional responsibility. No daughter-in-law of theirs would make such a move.

However, we found as we researched in different more and less traditional locations around Pakistan that when UHT milk is presented as a positive health benefit for the children and for the rest of the family, the same matriarch would expect any responsible daughter-in-law that loved and cared for her family to make this important switch.

Our work also identified an ideal Taste Profile for Milk Pak that differentiated it from its competitors and that consumers would associate with these health benefits

We identified the practical and emotional role that UHT milk played in the lives of these consumers and how to tap into the significance of this through carefully crafted and targeted emotional messaging.

Implementation of our recommendations made a significant difference to the fortunes of the brand as you can see from this comment from the brand manager at that time.

“We at Nestle were at a fix: Our biggest dairy brand, and the market leader for Pakistan’s UHT Milk market of nearly 250M USD, experienced rapid market share decline. While the category’s decline and market dynamics played their part, we struggled to find ways to revive the iconic brand and steer it in the direction for growth. At this point, we went back to the basics and focused on our product and our key proposition as the leading milk brand. As the Consumer Insights Manager at the time, I got in touch with Chris at Marketing Clinic to help us better understand our core proposition based on sound research. The result, though a mere 3 word statement, was phenomenal. It resulted in an increase in ‘Repurchase’ by 400 in the brand tracker and Market Share by 1000 basis points within a span of 3 months, despite continuing category decline.”

Danyal Syed Ali

Nestlé Pakistan

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

Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands