Marketing the Science: the new marketing challenge

16 Nov 2005|Added Value

Understanding the science behind product claims seems the least desirable activity for marketers, but that is exactly what is required to create desirable brands.

Great brands own and define emotion – they inspire desire. And that’s not just luxury goods, every choice we make is driven by our emotional reaction. Let’s face it, we don’t stand in our grocery aisles weighing up the functional pros and cons of every choice, we just ‘pick what we want’. One could argue that habit is actually just ‘desire’ becoming everyday – a shortcut to our choices.

But what makes brands desirable? All marketers know the basic answers – a combination of functional and emotional benefits that make the brand relevant, motivating, differentiated and credible. Communication agencies deliver the emotion; the R&D team delivers the functional benefit. The world over, products are being turned into brands by taking something practical and building an emotional benefit.

FMCG Marketing used to be straightforward – pick a functional claim that’s motivating, ownable and relevant to your audience and talk about it a lot… ‘the whitest whites‘, ‘the creamiest taste’, ‘made with real fruit’ etc – then concentrate on building a brand image that resonates with your target consumer. But along with increased accountability, an explosion of choice, shrinking budgets, brand rationalizations and centralization of marketing strategy, another shift has occurred.

Now we are hearing about provitamins, isotonic drinks, xylitol, and even L-casei immunitas, that most unlikely of consumer lingo. Now, rather than being just in clothes (lycra) or homeware (Teflon) the ‘science stuff’ is in our food, our drinks, our grocery essentials.

What began as an insipid creep of science into marketing-speak is becoming a flood, and with the pressure for ever more differentiated innovation and advertising claims that are defendable to the ASA, it seems that the need for ever more ownable science-based product claims is here to stay. 

The Marketers’ Challenge

So how do we, as marketers, deal with science – in our concepts, in our pack claims, in our advertising? How do we learn to understand and leverage product ingredients that even a Latin professor would struggle to pronounce?

Currently there’s two ways to do that – either you listen to consumers and write a brief to R&D to find new ways to deliver ‘whiter whites’ or ‘crunchier when dunked’, then just go with that claim when you can support it, or you wait for a serendipitous discovery by R&D and relaunch with their new formula and the claim they tell you Regulatory Affairs have approved.

But there’s a third way, on that I’d argue is surely the only route to long term success – to embrace the role of the marketer as a translator of functional features into benefits the consumer finds simple to understand and motivating. 

This means we can’t just sit back and take what R&D tells us. Nor can we just stick with what the consumer says they want. Neither of those will take us beyond the obvious and create real differentiation for our brands.

The goal is to really start innovating around product claims, get ‘down and dirty’ with the science behind your product so that you can come up with innovative ways to express that science – ways that really connect with the consumer, create a sense of ‘wow’ and build a connection that turns into desire.

Some brands are already on the right road, and we can learn from them…

1)      Brands that make it simple: they make an existing product claim much more consumer friendly

  • Johnson’s Baby shampoo talks of ‘as gentle to the eyes as water’ not just ‘pH neutral’ to substantiate ‘No More Tears’
  • Shreddies is ‘releasing energy slowly’ rather than ‘made with complex carbohydrates’
  • Yakult with ‘friendly bacteria’ not ‘Lactobacillus casei Shirota’

2)      Brands that make it better: they apply science to solving big consumer needs but then leave the science in the lab

  • The ‘widget’ revolution in beer – simply explained, no scientific waffle
  • Frizz Ease – focus on hair benefit not the science in the product

3)      Brands that know their enemy: they take an ‘anti-science’ stand to champion consumer simplicity

  • Anchor Spreadable – ‘unless you like eating colouring E160a and Emulsifier E471 maybe you could do with a change’
  • Birds Eye – ‘we don’t play with our food’

Justifying Scientific Language

What about all the brands who do use the scientific jargon? This is where the real challenge lies, to strike the delicate balance of simple but worthwhile consumer claims.  

There are many reasons used to justify scientific language, but in Added Value’s experience, only three reasons make for good marketing:

  1. If it is an evocative name that helps the consumer understand what the benefit is (eg. Nutrileum for anti-frizz effect – L’Oreal Elvive)
  2. If your target market already recognises these kinds of terms and expects that level of explanation (eg. ‘contains a gentle probiotic for kids’ – Munch Bunch Drinky +)
  3. If you are creating a new type of claim and consumers need a ‘credibility assurance’ beyond just the benefit, and it would make sense to ‘educated’ consumers (eg Lucozade Sport Hydroactive – replaces essential salts encouraging better hydration)

And here are the reasons that don’t stand up in court:

  1. “We’re required by law to state the active ingredient” – great, but it’s not the claim, put it on the back of the pack. Eg. phenylalanine in drinks
  2. “It sounds ‘scientific’ and so reinforces our claim” – since when has giving the consumer useless information ever been good marketing? Eg. Salicylic Acid in skin care, not something consumers know about.
  3. “Our competitors say it so we should” – only valid if consumers already understand it.
  4. “We got good clinical trial results on this ingredient so people should find it motivating” – what’s in it for the consumer? Maybe no-one cares.

The common themes here are credibility and understanding.

In most cases, the science behind functional differentiation can remain hidden – consumers don’t need to know how it happens, they are not interested. This works if the end benefit is clear and credible and instantly motivating. No questions asked. We don’t care how our cold beer happens, as long as it does.

However, in many cases the credibility is just not there, as consumers evaluate products based on their current frame of reference of what’s achievable, and easily disbelieve loose claims or claims that are too stretchy, both on the basis of their previous experience.

So it’s not enough to just say (or imply) yoghurts are good for you, or this shampoo makes your hair shiny, or this cereal will help your heart. Consumers tune out to all these claims They either become rejected or become ‘tablestakes’ and brands are left with the challenge of introducing new exciting benefits to grab consumers attention. And with these new benefits comes the credibility hurdle.

Ten Key Principles

So what do marketers need to do differently to get this balance of credibility and understanding right, and leverage their product’s science to create real brand differentiation and desire? 

Added Value’s innovation and brand positioning work with some of the best brand-led businesses globally has highlighted ten key principles that could help every marketer get more out of the science behind their brands

1)      Know your audience

Þ     Use smart consumer insight to understand what they know already and where your boundaries of understanding and credibility are.

2)      Build on what they know

Þ     Don’t try to correct consumers, it will only leave them confused – if a big myth exists, find a way to side step it and allow the consumer to reappraise their beliefs without talking down to them.

3)      Focus on a consumer relevant benefit

Þ     Deliver against a benefit that really matters and is motivating, either that the consumer expects today, or would be delighted by tomorrow. If not, don’t kid yourself they’ll be interested.

4)      Get creative

Þ     Analogies are not just for advertising – get creative with ways to communicate the benefit, don’t stop at its identification. This ‘expression’ should be simply, clear, and instantly resonate with consumers, and lies at the core of a great concept.

5)      Use science language sparingly

Þ     Use the golden rules of science language identified about – credibility & understanding.

6)      Optimise naming

Þ     Sometimes naming helps you ‘own’ a benefit, but beware of creating brand-specific language for something other brands can copy, you’ll only confuse consumers – keep it simple and descriptive. And generally, stop at just naming –  branding an ingredient is a whole different ballgame and only applies if it’s a joint venture with a different competence (eg neutraceutical inclusions) or if you plan to put the ingredient in many other products (eg Lycra, Nutrasweet)

7)      Seek proof

Þ     Make sure all claims can be substantiated in the eyes of the Advertising Standards Authority.

8)      Avoid side effects

Þ     Assume that ‘the truth will out’ – don’t go with a product change that has a potential negative side effect that could alarm or confuse consumers. This can sometimes mean avoiding benefits that cause other issues (eg vitamin enriched but double the fat), unless handled carefully and honestly.

9)      Road-test it

Þ     Get diagnostic in your research, use consumers to help develop and build ideas, not just evaluate them. Bring it to life for them, even with mocked-up PR or communications. Closer you get to real-world, the better your insight will be.

10)  Use 360’ marketing

Þ     Credibility is not just about awareness, it’s about increasing consumer faith that what you say is the truth – think endorsements, websites, sponsorships, PR, and best of all product sampling that demonstrates the benefits.

Call to action

For marketers then, the challenge is clear – get close to your consumers AND get close to the science that makes your products work.  Fuse the two to create innovative and differentiating new benefits, and most importantly, be the translator to make these clear, simple and motivating to your consumers. Building this flow, from scientific truth to the consumer’s cupboard, is the key to building desire for your brands, today, and tomorrow.

By Liz Tinlin

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