In essence, consumer behavior is studying the effect marketing stimuli has on neural receptors. As marketers we are perpetually studying how to to activate those neural receptors favorably, to capture mindshare. In our experience, memorable brands are brands that generate products or services that focus on consumer value and experience and create strong emotional connections. And so, our job is to create brands that identify the appropriate stimuli to create the neural response we are looking for. The brain, being the brain, is naturally pretty brainy. And brains grow bored. They begin to recognize patterns, and know when they are being duped. So good marketers must have a good understanding of how the brain works to perpetually engage those of consumers. And they have to keep those brains on their toes, so to speak.
To build a brand powerhouse that truly captures mind-share, and engages consumers at every level, evolution and innovation must be at the core of your brand strategy. To stay top of mind for decades or even centuries, your brand must be responsive to changes in tastes, socio-cultural trends, and economics. Darwin said it best when he said “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Consumers are perpetually evolving, and so brands must evolve with them to stay relevant. It’s that simple.
Lets look at the brand greats, like coca-cola for example. Innovation has been the life-blood of their business. Amidst a plethora of copycat beverages, coca-cola has always thrived. At first it was their formula, then their pledge to authenticity, then their iconic bottle shape, innovations that made it easier to drink coke such as open top coolers, 6-packs etc. In the beverage category, they have always pushed the envelope and given consumers what they didn’t even know they wanted. In their 125 year history, their products have been reformulated, toiled & tinkered with for user-friendliness, efficacy, coolness, functionality and so forth which has allowed them to thrive even in the hardest of times and the most competitive category.
Apple is another brand behemoth that sings the praises of innovations and reaps the benefits as well. Apple asserts that a culture of innovation belies innovative product. Their cutting edge technology is a result of an organization that is dependent upon creativity, freedom & disagreement. They perpetually consider human behavior, how it is evolving, and what products can be created to meet and exceed those needs.
But how much of innovation is divine inspiration, and how much of it is hardwork? Peter Drucker, noted expert in the field of entrepreneurship and innovation says that innovation isn’t inspired by a bright idea, rather it “is organized, systematic, rational work” and can be woven into the fabrics of any organization. Drucker asserts that innovation lies in areas of opportunities from industry to demographic trends. Once a clear opportunity and framework has been identified, the imagination and creative genius can begin.
Innovation is both “perceptual and conceptual” and thus going out into the real world, asking questions and listening, is paramount in divining the right direction. Successful innovators are right and left brained. They think analytically, but can execute creatively. They start with a small idea, that is need based and answers a question. The best innovations are obvious, logical ones that are brilliant in their simplicity. Whatever your brand consists of, whether it’s a healthcare product or a technology service, you have to perpetually evolve it for it to compete in the marketplace. Brand innovation may seem daunting, but when you think about it both “perceptually and conceptually” its actually just the logical next step.
Think back to those two brand greats we just mentioned. Rather than pouring over the competitive environment, and constantly looking over their shoulder, they are forever considering their consumer. Rather than asking what is the competition doing that I am not, they are asking “how is the consumer behaving and how can I support that?” Even further, they often create consumer behavior trends by asking, “what will the consumer do next and how can I encourage that?”
If you think that innovation is dictated by the brand and not the consumer: you may consider looking at things in reverse. Perceived value is what drives consumer choice and decision. Consider this, brands that fail to demonstrate changes in value for the consumer also demonstrate the slowest growth in terms of sales and market share.
Consumers Demand Innovation
French juice brand Pampryl was a market leader for years. With the rise of lower priced copy-cat brands, the juice giant saw a decline in profit, distribution and market share and eventually slide to position number 4. Pampryl didn’t take this lying down. Knowing very well that the consumer opinion is the lifeblood of any business, they sought to deliver a better quality product with added convenience. They revolutionized their package to extend the shelf life of their product by 12 months and they dramatically enhanced the quality of their juice. They innovated and changed their value proposition to deliver “real” juice not from concentrate in a beautiful package that was easy to store and didn’t require refrigeration. Within 2 years the brand was back in the number 2 spot, and they single-handedly drove demand for the premium juice category by putting emphasis back on juice quality. They doubled distribution and enjoyed their highest margins ever.
Of course, not all innovation can lead to growth. But a few valuable lessons can be learned here- namely, that the consumer drives innovation. The moment you ignore your consumer another brand will swoop in to satisfy them better. One of the great things about modern marketing is that there is always a dialogue between brands and consumers. Tap into that. Understand why consumers like your products and anticipate what they want to see next. Keep serving their evolving needs, and they will keep coming back.
Amina AlTai is the Marketing Director for the Imagemme New York City office.