The past five years has witnessed a notable shift towards reformulating products to be, generally, better for us. In the food and beverage space this has often meant cleaner, simpler and shorter ingredient lines that remove artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives (to name just a few) and instead use ingredients consumers can pronounce and understand. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal highlights some of the development and innovation work of both large and small manufacturers in this space. The personal care industry is not immune to these changes as we see the desire for fewer chemicals including petroleum based ingredients, phthalates and parabens. Wal-Mart has even called on its suppliers to reduce the chemicals in a number of beauty products which will likely help to motivate more reformulation work.

laboratory-1009178_1920 Given my experience in the area of product design and development, I find the reformulation required in this space to be fascinating, given its numerous nuances and challenges. For instance, how product developers are challenged with finding alternative ingredients that perform in the complex manufacturing and distribution process while still delivering products that consumers desire and deliver on key benefits (and let’s be clear, sales and profitability are top of mind as well) is no small task. Manufacturers must also consider how and what they communicate about new products or changes to existing products. Some manufacturers are communicating the changes broadly to the marketplace, for example, McDonald’s is advertising changes to its chicken nuggets in a new ad campaign. Others may communicate on the front of the package, drawing attention to the addition or exclusion of ingredients. Finally, others “quietly” communicate the changes only via nutrition or ingredient labels. The recent example here is Kraft Heinz’s change to the iconic Kraft Mac & Cheese to exclude artificial flavors and colors which the organization chose not to publicize.

The decision for if and how to communicate such changes can be just as complex as the reformulation itself as manufacturers weigh what they can realistically or legally say about the change, the extent to which consumers will notice or be impacted by the change and the interaction between consumer’s perception of a “better” product vs. their true product experience. Furthermore, this interaction may differ dramatically by category depending on consumer expectations and desires for the category.

This presents interesting implications for product developers when it comes to screening and prioritizing some of the opportunities to modify products, clean up ingredient lines and make them generally better for consumers and meet their ever-evolving expectations.

Prioritizing what your consumers want vs. need

surveypicOne way in which Ipsos has helped product developers at the intersection of product development, consumer expectations and potential communication is via Kano, a quantitative tool for screening and prioritizing product features and benefits that may be added to new or existing products. The creator of the approach, Professor Noriaki Kano of Japan, believed that the presence and absence of features/benefits impact consumers differently. Kano initially proposed the approach to engineers and at Ipsos, we’ve successfully applied the technique to early stage product development work in a variety of categories. Not only has it been useful in guiding innovation efforts, but marketing functions have also benefited from the potential insights it provides for communication strategies.

With Kano, we ask consumers how they would feel if a specific, singular product feature or benefit were present, and how they’d feel if it were absent. The responses are categorical in nature:

  • I really like it that way
  • I expect it that way
  • I am neutral
  • I dislike it, but can live with it that way
  • I dislike it and cannot accept it that way

For example, “How would you feel if a kid’s beverage was colored with the beets delivering two servings of vegetables?” and “How would you feel if a kid’s beverage was NOT colored with the beets delivering a two servings of vegetables?”.

Responses for the two questions are cross-referenced and ultimately classified into 6 categories:

Indifferent: features/benefits whose presence or absence matter little to consumers

Attractive: features/benefits which if present yield consumer “delight” & if absent have minimal impact on consumer satisfaction

One-Dimensional: features/benefits which if present increase consumer satisfaction & if absent decrease consumer satisfaction (1:1 relationship)

Must-Be: features/benefits which if present do not increase satisfaction but if absent result in a decline in satisfaction

Reverse: features/benefits which if present result in a decline in satisfaction and if absent actually results in an increase in satisfaction (coined as such because it may be the “reverse” of what the researcher expected).

As the purchaser of kid’s beverages in my household, I might respond “I really like it that way” if the feature were present, because I would love a convenient way to get more veggies in my children. But if it weren’t present, I would “dislike it, but could live without it”, because I will just resort to traditional means for getting my children veggies. Together my response pattern suggests I perceive this benefit as “Attractive”. However, should my children answer this, I suspect they’d offer a response pattern ultimately classified as “Reverse” – they’d indicate that if the beets were present they would “dislike it, and could not accept it that way”. This article on the application of Kano to Apple innovation is a quick read to help familiarize the reader with the approach.

Leveraging Kano to guide your product development and communication strategy

Ipsos has used Kano with product developers from CPG, durable, technology and QSR (Quick Serve Restaurant) sectors to screen features and benefits developed & provided by our clients at the earliest stages of development to identify what might be added to new or existing products and what might be communicated on-pack. The approach has provided rich insights to teams looking to develop in the health & wellness and “cleaner” ingredient spaces where we’ve screened benefits from non-GMO to organic and farm-raised features, and looked at the addition of ingredients ranging from bee pollen to chickpea protein to algae. We are then able to identify which of these features consumers expect but may not be excited by (Must-Be’s), those which do generate excitement and could serve as differentiators (Attractive’s), those which might have, but want “more” of (One-Dimensional’s) and those that consumers don’t currently care about (Indifferent’s). We also learn about those which product developers assumed would be of interest but which consumers actually said they do NOT want in a product (Reverse). These results guide short and long-term innovation, often time for key consumer segments and sometimes even by market for large, global brands looking to develop a harmonized strategy.corn-field-440338_1920

We also capture additional key measures for the features/benefits we screen to identify those that respondents deem as “believable” and which are most “relevant” to them. In combination, we can help to develop a short and long-term strategy for product development, but also begin to shed light on potential communication opportunities. For instance, in some instances we’ve discovered a feature/benefit which consumers deem as Attractive (and therefore new and exciting) may be something that our clients are already delivering in their product. This becomes a perfect communication opportunity rather than a product development opportunity – the goal is to clearly communicate that the product delivers the feature/benefit they are so enthused by. For items which are deemed One-Dimensional, there can be an opportunity to assess performance on that dimension vs. competition and, should performance be sufficiently strong, a team may wish to pursue a claim. Items which are Must-Be’s often don’t warrant communication simply because consumers already expect it. Rather, teams should ensure they are delivering on that dimension at a satisfactory level.

For example, we might find that in the breakfast cereal category, users are really attracted to the idea of non-GMO corn as an ingredient. If this currently exists on our client’s product(s), it’s an opportunity to communicate the benefit in a more salient way. But, that attribute might soon evolve into a “must be” in the category at which point communication (ignoring what is being required via legislation) of the attribute does less to drive increased satisfaction and merely prevents dissatisfaction or perhaps a loss of share in the category.

So while the decision to (re)formulate to meet consumer expectations in today’s marketplace is complex, so too is the decision as to if, how and what to communicate to consumers to make the most positive impact. The entire product and communication development process undoubtedly takes time, but an approach like Kano can help teams to efficiently screen and prioritize what can be the most fruitful path forward, acknowledging that not all features or benefits – whether they be delivered to consumers via messaging or the product – impact consumers in the same way.

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