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The consumer has spoken

Like everyone else, I watched social media’s influence on product support and the flurry of viral communications associated with the ketchup wars earlier this year. I can’t help but wonder if it all could have been prevented from the beginning?

French’s ketchup launched back in early 2015 into a category that was clearly dominated by another major brand. Was there a campaign to generate excitement and convert people from the beginning? Had it launched with a bang, perhaps it would have been able to compete head-to-head for share of mind and market, rather than gaining momentum more than a year later thanks to consumers.

It goes back to my earlier column where I talked about the expectation on consumers to know that the product is new and sourced by local farmers. Who knew about French’s ketchup when it first launched? How long was the campaign and did it tell people that the tomatoes were local?

French’s Ketchup tiptoed dangerously close to death, nearly being delisted by Loblaw. I think there are a few important reminders to consider from this

1. Don’t assume the consumer will realize on their own that a product is new and is a better offering.
I have seen numerous occasions where either budgets or blinders guide product launch plans. Budgets are often spread so thin that there isn’t enough money to promote or continue to support the new product. It’s assumed that the consumer will automatically recognize a new product and its benefits. Blinders can impact the support for new products, as I mentioned in my last column. Leaders can get so close to their business that they forget what people really need to know.

2. Generating excitement for a new product is a long term investment.
Generating excitement requires ongoing support for the product and category. From my experience, the fatal mistake made by leaders is neglecting to allocate part of their budget to motivate ongoing support. If they do provide support, it’s often so small or infrequent that it’s not even worth the investment of launching the new product. Without significant investment and support, these products are likely to be delisted anyway. Sorry to sound so glum, but that is the reality in today’s landscape. Why bother investing in new product development when there isn’t sufficient budget to support new product success?

3. We cannot underestimate the value of the consumer’s opinion and impact on the success of new products or any products.
Thinking that we know the customer best can be destructive for brands and businesses, and the French’s case study is another proof point. One of the biggest gaps in the French’s campaign was the miscalculation about the consumer’s power, and it’s only getting stronger with technology and the savvy and informed customer today. Just look at the power of the Mommy Bloggers.

From my work with clients, I have concluded that the leaders that genuinely listen to the customer’s input early in the planning process and keep checking in with the customer are the brands thriving today. And yet, there are still company leaders who seem to think they know what’s best for the customer, ignore what the customer has to say, and guess what happens?

The French’s ketchup debacle reminds me of another company looking to make its mark in Canada. Although Target’s entry into Canada had many flaws, there is a common theme about understanding the customer, either current or prospective that is similar to this story in some ways. This story highlights another dimension that I know has been said over and over, and that is the fact that French’s Ketchup contains Canadian-grown tomatoes and yet the product is manufactured in the US so there is a point about knowing the Canadian landscape. I could speculate that either the brand thought there would be a halo effect of leveraging the French’s brand power in the mustard category to magically gain share of mind in the Ketchup category. Or, maybe this was part of the promotion to gain share of mind and market? It will be a topic for many business school case studies.

Consumers have a voice, and it’s time that we listen, be proactive, and think about the customer’s point of view earlier. It could save the next product launch.

 

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