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I’ll Buy You Just The Way You Are

It’s interesting to think how brands unconsciously push buyers away. Then when this affects their sales, they would try to remedy the symptoms rather than solving the real issue. Making it easy for consumers to consider the brand in times of category need, and actually find them. I thought this would be a good enough topic for my inaugural blog post here – just to keep my personal musings separate to my professional ones. I would group the issue into these three mistakes.

Unnecessary nip-and-tucks

This thought occured a couple of weeks ago when I considered buying biscuits. So, I would go on an autopilot, scanning through the options and pick whatever product that catches my fancy. On this occasion, I picked up a pack dark chocolate wafers that I sometimes buy, when I noticed a little golden square that proudly mentions, “New – Improved Recipe”. I thought to myself – but there was nothing wrong with the old one! It made me question how the recipe changed and how it would alter the taste – and whether I should change my expectations.

It was not just the chocolate wafers. You would probably could come up with your own examples – of lotions or shampoos that have been reformulated to be runnier, thicker, or would smell different. When that happened, it made me snap out of my habitual purchases, and open the doors for me to find other alternatives that would meet my needs and initial expectations.

It’s rare that consumers would go on a tantrum like in the case of New Coke or when Arnott’s changed the recipe of their Shapes products in Australia. In most cases, when current buyers notice the changes, it may actually nudge them to re-evaluate other options in the market if the product does not fulfil their expectations.

Remedy: I get it that retailers often ask for new news – something novel to bring to buyers’ attention. The team behind the brand may also want to jazz up and create new excitement to the brand. However, the strategy could also backfire when existing buyers end up considering the alternatives – when non-buyers and previous buyers don’t really care anyway about taste, consistency, or fragrance reformulation. If it works, don’t break it. Think of other creative means to bring buyers to consider the brand – well-branded ads with new creative, perhaps? Well-executed seasonal products?

New look, new outfits

Going to the supermarket is not like going to a fun-fair or a trade expo. Most of us want to get in and out of the supermarket quickly. Very few of us would marvel at the new gradation on the new packaging, or how the font had been modernised. When a packaging is modernised or re-designed, chances are it makes the buyers stop to either trust that the same product in the new clothes would still satisfy the category needs that the old one does – or re-assess the options and purchase an alternative instead.

Remedy: This is where it’s important for brands to know of the shortcuts that the brand is known by: your Distinctive Brand Assets. Build and protect them. If you tinker too much with the packaging look and feel, you’ll risk of buyers not recognising you. If you must – why don’t you address new packaging that offers a new functional benefit instead? Like, easier-to-carry packs or no-drip bottles?

Irritating vanishing acts

Some people argue that having a dog is like having a baby or a toddler. I would tend to agree when it comes to buying dog food. Mothers would be likely to gravitate towards a main brand, if the baby or the toddler like a certain brand and that it would not cause any health issues with them. Yes, on occasions, they would purchase other brands for emergencies or if they baby also likes other brands. In the case of our 13.5-year-old English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, I know that he doesn’t like certain brands – by the fact that he would leave the food untouched for a good part of the day, and would seem to begrudgingly eat the following day when he was too hungry.

You could imagine my frustration when the brands in my repertoire vanish one by one on the supermarket shelves. In their spots, there are brands that Indy, my dog doesn’t like, or the supermarket’s own brand. Living in Australia, a largely duopolised-supemarket country, it made me consider the other supermarket chain in the neighbourhood. Luckily, they still stock the brands that I would consider. In this particular case, it’s unclear whether the supermarket chain instigated the change, or if the brands decided to pull out. Whoever responsible for the move – again – had made me re-assess my habit, and consider their competitors. I predominantly shopped in one retailer chain (as it is the closest to our house), but the brand disappearances have made me assigned more of the shopping to their competitor.

Remedy: There are many factors that make brands under-perform – and yanking them off the shelves for some short-term gains is risky. I would understand if the brands seem to be ignored and unpurchased by the shoppers – but when the decision seems arbitrary: now you see it, now you don’t would only annoy buyers, especially for categories with smaller repertoire, like dog food or baby food. Think of other tactics or strategies to protect your shelf-space in store.

The three examples above are just some that I experienced recently. There are probably a lot more. Brands often unconsciously make it difficult for shoppers to keep them in their repertoire. It is true that there would be many other shoppers who would appreciate the new formulation, the new packaging, or those who are oblivious to brand disappearances. However, I would genuinely question how the manufacturers (or the supermarket chains) could justify that the move would bring in more revenue to their business. It doesn’t mean that changes are truly verboten. There are valid reasons why products need to be re-formulated, the packaging to be changed, or brands to be rationalised or delisted – but there needs to be a clear and well-considered intent on why this is necessary.

The words of Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are seem to resonate in these situations. The words about love and passion are not applicable here – but really, we’ll buy you just the way they are!

Just make it easier for me to keep you in my mind, and find you when I need you.

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