Reinventing the Brand, from Square One

Taking New Product Testing out of the Lab and into the Store

By Lily Lev-Glick, Perception Research Services.

In the new retail marketplace, where attention has shifted, ostensibly, away from traditional advertising tactics and into the store. Shelves are teeming with a vast array of mainstream and specialty products, aisles are filled with point-of-sale merchandising that blink and talk and there is an unprecedented level of brands calling out to shoppers during the last three feet of the purchase decision process.

Yet with all this new at-retail religion, and despite much investment dedicated to research and development, still more than 2/3rds of new product launches fail in the marketplace. Undaunted, marketers continue to develop new products and rely on compelling concepts to meet a need that consumers don't even realize they have.

Getting Noticed

Here's the problem. Most new products get lost at retail and are never considered, particularly those in frequently shopped categories such as beverages, cereal and snack foods where purchase decisions are habituated and not actively thought out at the shelf. Although new products are tested prior to market placement they are often tested in the absence of a competitive context leaving marketers without real-world insights into shelf impact, the first step in generating active consideration.

Without a doubt capturing attention at shelf is far easier said than done. Despite strong pre-store advertising initiatives and no matter how compelling your new product offer might be you must create a package that has strong visual impact at the shelf either through the use of color contrast or a unique structural design. But great packaging alone is not a guarantee for new product success at the shelf as a prime shelf location is also needed to increase your product's chances of getting into the shopper's basket.

PRS Eye-Tracking confirms that when shoppers view a category they completely miss 1/3rd of the products on the shelf. This is particularly the case for those products occupying space in less visible real estate such as the top or bottom shelves where new products may get placed. Our data consistently shows that placement on the top shelf leads to a 30% decline in visibility that translates to a significant loss of potential sales.

We know that when shoppers approach a category they ground themselves centrally before they begin the product discrimination process. Once shoppers are grounded they will start scanning from a point of visual contrast, often at arm level, and then gravitate to the right. Therefore new product placement within the bull's eye of the category and to the right of a well-established brand will put a new product in the line of fire and help to increase its chances of getting noticed.

Another thing to think about is whether the new product is a line extension within an established brand or a completely new brand altogether as planograms can drive viewing patterns. For instance, horizontal brand blocking typically keeps shoppers within a single brand while vertical blocking tends to encourage comparisons across brands.

Differentiating at Shelf

In the face of strong efforts to communicate a product's uniqueness marketers often find themselves falling short of differentiating their new product from competition. Sure, we believe we have something compelling to offer consumers but shoppers may not recognize how and why the new product meets a different need than the product they've been using or how it is better than the competitive item next to it on the shelf. The reality is that if shoppers don't get the product's "story" clearly and persuasively within the first 10 seconds of attention chances are they won't consider it and instead default to the familiar. And so marketers must communicate unique benefits quickly and effectively by conveying their unique point of difference. The most successful new products convey their points of difference without relying heavily on package copy but rather by breaking through traditional boundaries of packaging design such as a non-traditional use of color or introducing a unique delivery system. An example of such success includes Wrigley's 5 gum.

Another tool for differentiation at shelf is imparting messages of personal relevance on a package such as type of usage occasion or need state rather than thinking in terms of ingredients, features, benefits and sub-brands. This was done well by Bayer for their new Back & Body Pain and Women's products.

By doing this new products can avoid the disconnect that leads to a breakdown in product benefit communication and are more likely to set themselves apart this way. Marketers may also want to consider segmenting their new product in a way that portrays them differently than their neighbors in the category such as the way. Nabisco created 100 Calorie Packs and communicated that point of difference very clearly on the package in a successful attempt to be different.

Testing New Products

Successful new product testing should be grounded in understanding shopping behavior as traditional testing often fails to take into account the reality of the shopping experience. The "inside-out" approach that marketers typically take with new product development (focus on perfecting the product itself) rather than an "outside-in" approach (putting a more systematic approach into the product's packaging and merchandising) often results in packaging that denies a good product concept an opportunity at shelf.

We often see new concepts testing well as they are found to be compelling in isolation but then fail to break through the clutter when placed on a real-world retail shelf. It is easy for a new product to win a beauty contest within a focus group room or look appealing on the screen in a web-based study while the respondent is in the comfort of their own home but a new product needs to be tested within a real shelf context and showing it on a 17" monitor may compromise the measurement of shelf presence.

Increasing our Chances at Retail

To increase the likelihood of successful new product introductions we must first build into our strategy the opportunity for visibility. Marketers must measure a new product's ability to break through clutter and consistently generate consideration with potentially a limited number of facings among a sea of competitors. Do shoppers see the product when first viewing the category? How much time do they spend with the product both visually and physically? Do they consider it for purchase among competitive choices? Does it ultimately end up in the basket?

  • To increase the likelihood of successful new product introductions we must first build into our strategy the opportunity for visibility. Marketers must measure a new product's ability to break through clutter and consistently generate consideration with potentially a limited number of facings among a sea of competitors. Do shoppers see the product when first viewing the category? How much time do they spend with the product both visually and physically? Do they consider it for purchase among competitive choices? Does it ultimately end up in the basket?To increase the likelihood of successful new product introductions we must first build into our strategy the opportunity for visibility. Marketers must measure a new product's ability to break through clutter and consistently generate consideration with potentially a limited number of facings among a sea of competitors. Do shoppers see the product when first viewing the category? How much time do they spend with the product both visually and physically? Do they consider it for purchase among competitive choices? Does it ultimately end up in the basket?

The next step is to uncover how well the product communicates its point of difference by understanding whether shoppers pick up on these differences. Do they understand the specific situation or condition for which they would use the product? What specific benefit does the product offer? Is it a trade-up from others in the category?

Understanding and measuring these success criteria are fundamentally what marketers need to take a closer look. While brand teams may be more excited about making TV commercials the reality is that at three feet from the shelf the package is the product.