Tag Archives: the market research event 2013

Where is the ice cream industry going? (Hint: Away from nostalgic memories)

Things change as we grow up. And its not just us, its also the things around us. So why are we always surprised? 

I am a foodie in disguise. Or perhaps not so much, as evident from my food blog. But above all, I specialize in desserts. And being wired into marketing and trend-watching, I have wondered many times about where the ice cream industry is going. Witness it in Where’s my Ice Cream again, mommy? An ode to nostalgic ice cream.

Classic ice cream, as we knew of it as kids, has now evolved into a whole new plethora of ice cream treats. From meaty to vegetably, from spicy to cheesey, and from an entire meal to a teatime substitute, I have identified several trends that I have tasted, relished, appalled, and naturally, documented. Kids, to whom ice cream is conventionally marketed, may no longer be
the target segment for the out-of-the-box flavors, explaining the
namesake title of this article. Like many businesses, the ice cream
business has to also grow and stretch beyond traditional norms, which is
why brands like Haagen daaz choose sexual connotations to position themselves as an adult brand, or why the existence of an evolution of ice cream trends exists
in the first place. The  new target market comprises of invidividuals
that are not segmented by age or demographics, but by tastes and mindsets. I feel that my Mindset Framework applies best to ice cream eaters, driven so strongly by the emotional
connection with this delectable treat!

The ice cream market itself can perhaps never decline; it has however
reached maturity, thus explaining the many trends that ice cream makers
have taken to keep it alive. My curiosity about how this happened has led to a mapping of the
evolution of ice cream, and what may lie in store! Though the trends are
not distinct from each other, with various combinations that give rise
to even more diversity, the following figure maps the evolution, trying
to grasp the strategy behind each phase.

Business Management
At
the onset, generally ice cream companies behave like a business. They
make something, sell it, keep selling it, see what sells, and continue
selling more of it. Kaboom, you have a market, a business, profits, and
ultimately, the economies of scale make the ice cream somewhat
commoditized. This explains the variety in quality amidst so many
classic makers.

Infiltration
On
loving vanilla ice cream, who wouldn’t love it with chocolate chips? Or
walnuts? Or a swirl of chocolate? Thus begins an era of infiltrating
ice cream with other favorites, at the time limited to things like
chocolate chips or gooey swirls of caramel and chocolate. Ice cream
floats can fall into this category too, which interestingly are making a
comeback, as witnessed by the street long lines outside Philadelphia’s Franklin Fountain.

Skinny and Healthy
On seeing the expanding waist sizes
and increasing health concerns, fat free and sugar free versions of
aforementioned ice creams begin to hit the market in this phase. The
target market here is those consumers who want the indulgence, but want
to walk out wearing the same pair of pants. This is a profitable way to
diversify the product, as it targets a large and growing segment. Less
sugar, sugar substitutes, smaller portions, and sometimes misleading
claims rule the roost here.

Super-premium Difference
Realizing the commoditization of the business, which rightfully erupted from the business management phase,
naturally ice cream creators in this phase look for a way to better
differentiate their product. So, taking inspiration from luxury
products, super premium ice cream is introduced, to give consumers the
ultimate indulgence, a divine treat, at a higher price point. Lovers of
ice cream inevitably fall for the trick, and at times, the taste is
indeed to swoon for! Today every brand has this, with much competition and merger activity on the battleground, but the classic Dove visuals
of rich melting swoops and rings strike a recollective memory bell. And
when the Godivas and Ghiriadellis begin to enter the ice cream market,
its easy for any marketer to see that the industry is booming.

Co-branding Smartness
Isn’t
it nice when you can dive into two indulgences with one scoop?
Friendship blossoms between brands of chocolate, cookie dough, cookies
and candy, and the world of ice cream, and the infiltration phase is repeated, this time with infiltrants that actually come with brand baggage. Co branding becomes the smart, creative and breakthrough business model.
Although perhaps an extension of diversifying from the business phase,
this is a new enticement for hungry consumers who can get their Snickers
and their ice cream all in one! And hey, its not bad if ice cream
makers can share their costs and profits alike with Reeses peanut butter
pieces, since the more eggs there are in the basket, the more likely it
is that they will be safe together, or crack together. Cannibalization?
Brand competition? Leave these worries to the corporates while we lick
on.

Inspired Flavors
This is probably where we are now, given the recalls on Nestle Toll House cookie dough and the overdose of co-branding. Similar to the diversification of food inspired body care products,
this is perhaps an era of drawing inspiration from the unlikeliest of
foods, ranging from rose petals, basil and cinnamon, to pumpkin, cotton
candy and bubble gum. Toss in a bit of the original fragments, be it
mint leaves or petals or strawberry pieces, and the experience is
authenticated. While the flavor craze is probably restricted to
boutiques and ice cream parlors, it may not be long before wacky
combinations begin hitting grocery stores, which are already densely
packed with flavors ranging from watermelon and grapefruit to all the
aforemnetioned trends, so gleefully glaring out of identical packaging
and confusingly similar artwork.

Meal inspirations and Combinations
This is what I have noticed a surge in globally. One may call it the
Willy Wonka Phase. Instead of simply having flavors, and pieces of other
infiltrants, entire meals are being combined to give you an ultimate
ice cream experience. Peanut butter and jelly ice cream sandwiches
replace the classic sandwich; bourbon ice cream with crunchy corn flakes
are akin to a breakfast; and as already discussed in the predecessor of this article,
these can foray into the savory category too! Ice cream made with salad
ingredients, vegetables, sesame seeds, combined together with trends
from previous eras, all formulate a world that Tim Burton would enjoy
crafting into a whimsical sattire.


 
Makes you wonder what happened to good old ice cream right? After all, where’s my ice cream, mommy?

Sourabh Sharma,
Communication & Social Media Research Expert at SKIM, an international
consultancy and marketing research agency, has a background in engineering,
marketing and finance from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton
School and Rotterdam School of Management. Having worked in marketing and
product development at L’Oreal, followed by a stint in management consulting,
he now passionately enjoys the world of social media, and can be found on every
platform with his alias sssourabh. He is a food critic and a fashion writer,
and documents these alongside strategy on his blog called
3FS. He may be reached at
s.sharma@skimgroup.com. Follow him on
@sssourabh.
 

Can healthcare companies learn about social media from consumer products?

Given that we live in a consumer savvy world, its logical that social media uptake is heaviest by consumer brands. However, despite my own consumer focus, I do have a background in healthcare and have often wondered how this regulated industry can navigate the social space by learning from its consumer counterpart. Having been published for this topic before, these are four things I hypothesize.

Listen Carefully

In the world of social media ‘listening,’ there is virtually
no end to the ways you can slice, dice and cull social media content. This
makes it easy to filter out valuable competitive insights by listening too
narrowly, such as by ruling out content from rogue bloggers and advertisements
that could prove useful. Healthcare brands can benefit from listening to patient and
provider reviews of themselves and their competitors, perusing online ads, and
monitoring the blogosphere for competitive intelligence. Social media is also a
great way to keep up with the industry reaction to regulatory changes including
interpretations and opinions.

Engage
Brands love to love themselves, and social media lets them
do it on a grand scale. However, CPG brands have learned that the key to
mutually fulfilling social media relationships is to give and take. By actively engaging stakeholders in a two-way dialogue
through various platforms. Healthcare and pharmaceuticals are particularly
segmented industries with complex decision-making ecosystems. Whereas in the
‘real world’ this presents a marketing research challenge, social media is the
perfect place to find self-segmented groups. Physician groups, disease-specific
support groups and health care news aggregators are online right now,
exchanging unedited, unfiltered insights. Those insights are an invaluable
complement to traditional marketing and advertising. 
Develop Thought Leadership
Personal care CPG brands know the value of using Twitter to
share a beauty tip, not just a coupon. Social media thought leadership content
is all about enlightened self-interest. Healthcare brands have an opportunity
to share highly relevant, altruistic content with highly segmented audiences
that have ‘opted in’ to what the brand has to say. And by sharing high value
information, the notion of ‘benefits before brands’ can really strengthen a
brand’s credibility. In order to provide quality healthcare in our fast moving
modern world, healthcare professionals have to stay on top of an almost
overwhelming amount of information. Social media is already being used as a
tool that filters, aggregates and delivers information that is specifically
relevant to various practitioners. In return, they are contributing to the
conversation. 

Discover Opportunities
Classical research usually delivers insights based on a brand in the
absence of competition, or within a constructed, stagnant competitive
environment. The insights are usually brand-specific, and a function of the
questions asked. But social media lets marketers see the whole, dynamic
competitive ecosystem, as everybody chats about everything. And since everyone
in this ecosystem has access to the exact same information, the first to stake
a claim wins. The healthcare industry still has lots of unclaimed territory on
the social media space. While several studies have revealed that over two
thirds of medical practitioners utilize social media weekly for professional
purposes, the activity can be harnessed by patients or brands alike. 
Over time, I feel that healthcare will overcome many barriers that consumer has learned to conquer via practice. But the industry is perfectly poised to uptake social media in a stronger way. For at the end of the day, even a healthcare consumer is a consumer, after all.

 

Sourabh Sharma,
Communication & Social Media Research Expert at SKIM, an international
consultancy and marketing research agency, has a background in engineering,
marketing and finance from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton
School and Rotterdam School of Management. Having worked in marketing and
product development at L’Oreal, followed by a stint in management consulting,
he now passionately enjoys the world of social media, and can be found on every
platform with his alias sssourabh. He is a food critic and a fashion writer,
and documents these alongside strategy on his blog called
3FS. He may be reached at
s.sharma@skimgroup.com. Follow him on
@sssourabh.
 

The Key to Branding: Evoke Love and Respect

Being a fan of consumer behavior, it is no wonder that I have discovered, having worked with a plethora of brands, that brands should always provide both love and respect for their consumers. Having blogged about my passion for the subject at length, here is one of my favorite two by two matrices on branding.

The key to strong branding is ensuring that it sustains through the
test of time. Branded products that rigidly hold on to their
positioning, contrary to what one may believe, are not the ones that are
most successful. Being rooted in your origins and true to what your
identity is different from having the same associations and execution
throughout generations. Branded products must connect with the consumers
in such a way that they evoke both love and respect.

This is by far the best marketing matrix I have come across, for
every product that I eat, use, see, feel and experience can easily fit
into one of the categories. It identifies the crux of what I, as a
consumer, will think about when using or consuming a product, and
ignores other linguistic and technical jargon, by focusing only on my love and respect for it.

Most branded products fall high on the love, but only momentarily, or at most, for one generation. These are fads, which are aptly described as a craze for a brief period of time.
Crocs, which are quickly languishing, or AOL Instant Messenger, are
good examples. Fads have a short shelf life. True, they are created by
the age-old principle to make hay while the sun shines, and if one is
content with this, then it is an apt strategy.

Others ape the trends of the present generation, without
differentiating themselves from competitors. The many celebrity colognes
that flood the market, or better yet, the clothing brands we have, fall
into this category; Express, Gap, you name it! [I do quite like some of
these well defined brands, but as they say, my love is disloyal to most
of them, despite my high respect for their
competitive/vibrant/social-media-friendly advertising]. Brands tend
to get lost in a competitive landscape, where they employ ancient
strategies to offer slight differentiation, without any aptitude for
risk or creativity. Whilst not as temporary as fads, they may not garner
as much attention. Perhaps the archaic definition of trademark, or related negative associations of the word ‘brand’, are what contribute to this category being low on love and attachment.

Lets not talk about products who, in a perfectly competitive market,
are equally substitutable, without offering any unique value
proposition. These would be the reason that our grocery stores have
entire aisles for things like pasta sauce, or cereal.  Commodities, as the derogatory tinged word suggests, are simply that; perfectly substitutable products. Cost leaders will often lean towards this strategy.
The ones that retain themselves in our minds and lives are those
which rise to more respectful levels than fads, and feel closer to our
hearts than brands. These, as Roberts rightfully put it, are lovemarks.
Despite the teasing compound word, it fits the emotional association of
its meaning. I have bucket fulls of examples of these in my bedroom,
bathroom, kitchen, and garage! But it’s not by coincidence that they
make it to this stage. These must a) entail real value propositions, b) retain the core identity, and c) evolve brand positioning to keep up with evolving trends and demographics, as I believe that these are the three primary principles to create lovemarks.

There is an element of cyclicality that I would like
to suggest to this matrix. For instance, over time, a fad may become a
commodity, or if its execution becomes more apt, it may become a brand.
And with the right promotion and product mix, it could become a
lovemark. Similarly, lovemarks could topple down as brands without
sustained interest. So, in addition to fulfilling the aforementioned
three principles, branded products must consistently race on a
treadmill, which in turn is on a slippery slope.

Welcome to the world of branding!

Sourabh Sharma,
Communication & Social Media Research Expert at SKIM, an international
consultancy and marketing research agency, has a background in engineering,
marketing and finance from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton
School and Rotterdam School of Management. Having worked in marketing and
product development at L’Oreal, followed by a stint in management consulting,
he now passionately enjoys the world of social media, and can be found on every
platform with his alias sssourabh. He is a food critic and a fashion writer,
and documents these alongside strategy on his blog called
3FS. He may be reached at
s.sharma@skimgroup.com. Follow him on
@sssourabh.