Unlike new products, which have a relatively predictable path to growth, established products have a wide array of development paths to choose among. Mature brands will find themselves in a broader range of situations than new ones. When it becomes clear that your established brand needs investment to grow your circle of buyers, how do you know which path will work best for you?
The sheer range of choices can be a problem, particularly because discussions about serious investment often only begin when the brand begins to show indications of decline. This is the moment when a new competitive entry or a shift in consumer interest is particularly dangerous–and the moment when it is most likely already happening (something is challenging your brand, or you wouldn’t be in difficulties). In this situation, it’s clear that acting fast is critical. Every delay puts the brand at greater risk. Nevertheless, the variety of options often results in teams falling prey to decision paralysis. If everyone could work from the same map with clear direction as to how to arrive at the destination, the chances of success would be much improved.
Unfortunately, most brands use the wrong map, focusing on lost customers, who aren’t likely to return, rather than the ones they have and the ones they could bring in to the fold.
Don’t look in the rearview mirror
The problem is that looking to the past is not very useful. Many brands seek to understand why lost buyers have stopped buying, often by conducting a survey with a panel of consumers who record everything they buy. The theory is that, if one can only understand why people left, you can work out how to get them back.
When we look at why people left, we see some common themes:
Uninvolved. Perhaps they don’t buy your category often. At worst, they may not remember buying you in the first place. Other brands or categories have grabbed their attention. Regaining that lost attention, if it’s even possible, will be a challenging proposition.
Irregular choice. They chose you because you were on deal or what they typically buy wasn’t available. Whatever the reason, bringing them back will require offering more for less–lowering the price or increasing deals. These consumers probably don’t understand and value your brand the way you do. They are not ideal customers.
Disconnected benefits. Sometimes what a brand offers just doesn’t fit with what some consumers are looking for. If they stopped buying you because you didn’t meet their category needs, bringing them back will require changing the product and a lot of convincing. You are better off appealing to buyers with whom you are a good match.
There are other reasons–perhaps you were difficult to find, there was too much competition, or household dynamics changed. Whatever the situation, in most cases, this kind of back-looking diagnosis doesn’t actually show you a useful path to the future.
Expanding your circle: make new friends but keep the old
The most important reason looking in the rearview mirror is of limited value is that it actually focuses on just one type of buyer – the lost buyer, which loses sight of the opportunity to increase your circle of friends through fostering current relationships while creating new ones. To grow your brand, focus on the new friends you can make as well as your old friends, and worry less about the customers you have lost.
Your old and potential new friends each fit into two categories. Your old friends, currently buying your brands, are ‘bonded’ and ‘tenuous’. Your new friends, who you aim to bring on board, are ‘attracted’ or (more challenging) ‘reluctant’.
Bonded: Likes the brand and buys it. There may well be people out there who like you a lot and would be happy to get to know you better. What can you do to increase how much they buy? The goal is to give them as many reasons as possible to deepen their relationship with you. Larger packs, bonus packs, more usage occasions, in-pack coupons, multi-purchase deals… these are all ways to protect bonded consumers from choosing your competitor.
Tenuous: Buys the brand, but isn’t attached to it. You may have a lot of these old friends. Perhaps they were once more like bonded friends – you had a strong relationship, but it has faded a bit. Or perhaps you cross paths occasionally but don’t have a strong bond. If you want to keep them, develop an effective defensive strategy: understand what they are looking for and what you need to do to retain them. Some tenuous consumers are more sensitive to price than to quality. If they are buying you on deal, you may need to maintain or increase your promotions to keep them. Perhaps, however, they find you about as attractive as one or two other brands – in which case it is worth making an attempt to convince them of your unique benefits. The more valuable group, however, may be consumers who actually prefer another brand and are buying you anyway. Is it because you are available where they shop? Has the other brand priced itself too high? Understand why they prefer another brand to demonstrate why they should choose you more often.
Attracted: Likes the brand, but isn’t buying it (yet). These potential new friends are “low-hanging fruit” who should not require very much in terms of attention and investment to get a relationship going. Maybe you’ve crossed paths but you don’t go to their favorite hang-out. Maybe you suit them in part but not in whole. For them, investigate barriers. Look at the likely effects of expanding your availability or of reassessing your offerings. Can you make yourself more available and interesting for these consumers? Would higher quality displays make a difference or maybe a larger pack size? All these steps can help convert attracted consumers.
Reluctant: Doesn’t buy the brand and doesn’t want to. Why worry about the reluctant buyers, given that they are likely to be the most expensive group to bring on board? Well, given how many brands there are in any particular category, this is typically the largest group of potential consumers… and many of them are friends you haven’t even met yet. The good news is that some of them are easier to attract than others. Some just don’t know about your brand. Others know about it, but got a poor first impression. Many buy in a different space: value where you are premium or premium where you are value. Consequently, activating this group can be as simple as broadening your advertising and as complicated as product innovation. The size of this group makes it worth investing in understanding them.
Prioritizing growth paths
If you’re a brand with an endless budget, congrats! Go ahead and activate all four targets with unique strategies. Realistically, however, brands usually have to make difficult decisions about how to spend their money. Consumers, like new relationships, can be fickle–they’ll commit to you when you show what you’ll commit to them in turn.
To prioritize the ideal path to growth, identify which of these groups represents the biggest opportunity for your brand. A survey that assigns consumers into the above four groups will also show you how large each group is and how much each group spends on your brand and competitors. You can use this data to estimate what portion of this group can be activated and how much that would increase your brand’s sales. Having estimated the size of the opportunity in each group, you can rank the groups accordingly, and you have your roadmap to growth.
We find clients are often helped by considering the most common roadmaps. Once again, it’s useful to divide the universe into four.
Large brand with strong equity. For these brands, the bonded group will be large. When brand managers see large, strong brands begin to show signs of decline, they often default to price cuts, new and different advertising campaigns, and even product innovation. These options can be mistakes. You have a large group of consumers who have liked you for a long time. Something is drawing them away, it is true – but you should not compromise your equity with them through a new pricing strategy, new positioning, or a product redesign. Any of these things could significantly erode your relationship with these buyers. Foster your strong relationships by showing them how important they are to you to remind them why they love you.
Large brand with weak equity. You’ve probably been relying on deals or an everyday low price strategy to maintain sales. Now sales indicators are flashing orange. That probably means a competitor has just stepped onto your turf, or that your strategy has led to your being perceived as a commodity. In either case, you need to step up your perceived benefits, either through improved communication or innovation or both.
Small brand with strong equity. Lucky you! You are sitting on untapped potential and probably have the easiest path to growth. The key is to understand barriers to trial. If you have a large group interested in you but not buying, it’s very likely you have an availability problem or people aren’t noticing you in the store. Are you available where the people who love you are shopping and is it easy for them to notice you? Evaluate your assortment of sizes and varieties to make sure you’re offering what consumers want. Determine if you should expand distribution, or whether increasing in-store presence would be impactful.
Small brand with weak equity. Facing a need to increase both equity and size is the most difficult situation to be in. Sometimes, the problem is just awareness, generally because the brand has a small marketing budget – but if so, money must be found for advertising. But if you are not well regarded and your sales are thin, a full-scale repositioning is probably required–and if not that, serious product innovation.
A clear growth roadmap
Just like finding new friends, the growth roadmap for established products is not always clear. Who buys your category? What, when, where, and how do they buy? Bringing together sentiment with sales reveals why consumers buy and how to influence them. Segment your buyers and non-buyers, size the opportunity, and develop a picture of your customers in order to influence them. Follow this roadmap and the relationships you can and should enter into – and how you can do it – will become much clearer.
Curious to learn more about what happens when companies link sentiment and sales? View our on-demand webinar, featuring a case study from Beiersdorf.