Other Cultures, Other Consumer Tests
What is the difference between consumer tests in Europe, the USA, and South East Asia?
isi and dr. wolf communications offer a new service. This innovative strategy adds dialog marketing to sensory and consumer research and thereby accelerates product development. For an in-depth understanding of "Integrated Consumer Research & Dialog Management" read on.
People desire products that fit their wants and needs better. But often too much time passes until customers’ needs lead to a new product or a new product variant. isi and dr. wolf communications would like to accelerate this process - by meshing consumer research and dialog marketing together. This strategy helps manufacturers to intensify customer contact, identify trends early on, and leads to more efficient product development cycles. (Reading time: 9 minutes)
In this article you will learn:
It is 2025 and we are in a supermarket. A customer is standing in front of a shelf with different kinds of tea and sighs. Autumn is approaching and the tea manufacturers offer tempting varieties, pomegranate with cinnamon, punch tea, winter evening blend. But all these combinations contain cinnamon, a spice that the customer vehemently dislikes.
Five years earlier, he would have turned away disappointed. Now he calls up an app and says: "Pomegranate-green tea-lemon, that would be my ideal blend, please leave out the cinnamon. Oh, by the way, I don't need a teabag, I prefer - sustainable please- a tea egg.”
The next time he visits the supermarket, he finds exactly this mixture on the tea shelf. He is not the only one who likes the new blend, several other customers who have also given positive feedback to the manufacturer.
What sounds futuristic is already reality in some industries. Telecommunications providers, for example, are able to quickly identify which rate types customers want, based on analysis of their data usage and react accordingly. "In the consumer goods industry, on the other hand, this treasure lies fallow, hidden in plain sight" emphasizes Dr. Thomas Wolf, Managing Director of dr. wolf communications. "Manufacturers could benefit enormously if they received direct input from the people who use (or conversely don’t use but share their feedback) their products".
The prerequisites have already been defined, explains Thomas Wolf. The only missing step has been an effective handshake between these two areas. Dialogue marketing enables customers to express their wishes and effectively transfer this feedback to manufacturers. Manufacturers are then able to realize these wishes in a shorter time frame.
Dialogue marketing* is traditionally responsible for this direct contact. In contrast, the question of which and why product ideas are well or poorly received is the domain of Sensory and Consumer Research**. "Dr. wolf communications is comprised of successful experts in the field of dialog marketing, isi is an international leader in sensory and consumer research. We bundle our expertise together in order to make the production of consumer goods more targeted, consumer-friendly and efficient," explains Joachim Haag, Managing Director and Head of Innovation Management at isi. The result is a new and innovative service, Integrated Consumer Research & Consumer Dialog Management.
What does that look like in detail? The best way to illustrate this is with an example. A manufacturer who offers yogurt establishes contact with the customer through various channels. For example, an incentive can be placed on the yogurt packaging to register on a website or take part in a customer rewards game. If the customer then decides to give the manufacturer his contact data after subsequent inquiries, the so-called double opt-in, the manufacturer opens up a dialog with the customer.
The customer receives information about new varieties via SMS, push messages, e-mail or other direct channels and is asked about his opinion of yoghurt from the manufacturer. The customer may also be interested in becoming part of a Facebook group on the subject of "Sustainable yogurt" or "Healthy dairy products".
The consumer that was once an anonymous buyer becomes a person with contact to the manufacturer communicating at eye level. Through this dialog marketing, the manufacturer learns not only more about the wishes and needs, but also about possible disappointments of the buyers. A black box is thus transformed into a communication exchange.
"This is a continuous, on-going dialog with the consumer that flows directly into consumer research. The results of the research in turn provide input for dialog marketing. This feedback ensures that customers are always involved in product development," emphasizes Claus Darnstädt, also Managing Director at dr. wolf communications.
Consumer goods and above all food products have different consumer behavioral idiosyncrasies than, for example, telecommunications services. A new telecommunications tariff that does not meet the customer's interest can be changed repeatedly within a comparatively short time.
In contrast, a small change to a food product can have dramatic and long-term consequences. For example, sales of Lucozade, a soft drink popular in Great Britain, fell by over 8% after the manufacturer reduced the sugar content; a loss for the manufacturer of over 25 million euros. If they had informed their customers in advance, they would probably have been spared this million Euro loss. Sugar reduction is relatively easy to achieve in many beverages, but customers did not tolerate even the smallest of change to this beloved cult drink.
Conversely, sales of the iced tea "little miracles" rose by almost a third after a 40 percent sugar reduction. "I wish we had done this earlier," explains the company founder. With the help of Integrated Consumer Research & Consumer Dialog Management, product development would probably have been faster, because it keeps us closer to the pulse of the consumer than any other strategy.
For example, when the dialogue marketing provides a clear sign that customers want a strawberry yogurt that is less sweet with larger strawberry pieces, then it is time for the sensory and consumer researchers at isi to take the next step. "Many people may not be aware that we can use modern methods and sophisticated statistics to find out very quickly which variant is best received by consumers," reports Joachim Haag.
Sometimes this turnaround from inquiry to answer happens in just three days. isi has test studios in Germany and around the world where questions about consumer taste can be answered accurately
As a result of the testing limitations caused by the Corona pandemic and public safety measures, isi has successfully developed and implemented a home testing alternative that is comparable to the laboratory experience that allows consumers to compare samples at home rather than in the laboratory.
One way, for example, to get the consumer group that had requested changes to strawberry yogurt involved in the sensory research is to provide them with samples derived from their input. Of course, the question of packaging, packaging size and price can also be answered by consumer research.
"We see product variations in the supermarkets that are not as well-received with customers as expected. Offering these products by the trial-and-error principle is expensive. With the help of the combination of direct marketing and sensory and consumer research, we create the conditions for more successful products," explains Joachim Haag.
Which products are particularly suitable for this combination? "I can't actually imagine any product that is not suitable for it," says Thomas Wolf. Whether tea, coffee, beer, snacks, sweets, sausages, shampoo, e-cigarettes or even therapeutics, all products benefit when the people who use them give feedback to the manufacturers. But above all Fast Moving Consumer Goods, in the technical jargon “fast movers”, are particularly well suited.
The purchase decision for Fast Moving Consumer Goods often takes place spontaneously and impulsively. Non-conscious decision-making processes and deeply rooted taste preferences play an important role here. It is precisely these aspects that can be examined more intensively with sensory and consumer research. Modern methods such as Immersive Testing and Implicit Testing help to explore consumer preferences.
Cosmetic products are also well suited, emphasizes Thomas Wolf. Men may even look enviously at their partner's cremes and toiletries in the bathroom cabinet in the morning. The selection of men care products is limited. For example, the offers in shaving gels are thin without a great deal of variety in comparison. This same envious consumer might be able to communicate his wishes via dialog marketing; sensory and consumer research could then test the ideas quickly.
Especially enthusiastic and loyal customers could also form a kind of innovation club. These people are already so familiar with the products, and their suggestions provide a stream of additional energy to research and dialogue. A manufacturer or a brand benefits from this club of committed customers.
"Then market research is possible in near real-time. This is an invaluable market advantage," says Joachim Haag. Particularly in areas where current topics are trendy, such as sustainability and meat alternatives, manufacturers often lose valuable months before the right product is launched on the market.
But how can we succeed in getting people to participate? Normally, participants in market or consumer research receive monetary incentives. Who would gladly sacrifice their free time to help a product manufacturer or company? "We have to give the consumer an incentive to enter into a relationship with the brand," explains Claus Darnstädt, responsible for business development at dr. wolf communications. This can be achieved with entertaining, worthful communication and a dialog that gives the participant the feeling that they are in an eye-level conversation directly with the brand.”
Instead of one-sided broadcasting of a message à la "We're good, buy that", the consumer feels that the dialog is meaningful, and the participation leads to an action influenced by their participation. Successful communication, in the experience of the team, can feel just as rewarding as financial recognition. This claim is a challenge since branded companies traditionally tend to communicate in a one-sided way.
To get into the conversation, the communication team uses proven contact aids. They range from lottery-style rewards programs to club memberships. The consumer is given a role at the brand's table and can influence the brand development.
"Of course, not all customer wishes can be fulfilled," clarifies Thomas Wolf. It is dependent on good dialogue marketing to make the customer understand how and why the manufacturer came to the conclusion".
This requires transparency and honesty. isi, as a company of sensory and consumer research, has a special role to play here. Customers who want a product that has little chance of success – such as a tangerine-flavored toothpaste – should learn why this combination does not work.
Conversely, consumers learn what and why the research stimulated by their ideas and wishes led to a new product or a new product variant. For example, isi found out that consumers prefer algae pasta with a lemon and basil filling. The idea for lemon basil came from the minds of the researchers. But why not involve a much larger pool of ideas - in other words, the consumers?
In sensory and consumer research it has been known for quite some time that products survive best in the market if consumers are involved right from the start of product development. In the meantime, other industries have shown how direct communication with the customer can be successful. Now it is up to consumer goods manufacturers to take up the challenge and turn themselves into early adopters.
(*) What is dialog marketing?
Dialogue marketing is a communication between the customer and the company. The aim is to deepen the customer relationship through interaction. This contrasts with mass marketing, which as with ‘a watering can’ principle can be distributed evenly over the entire target group without giving particular weight to, nor expecting much, feedback in individual cases. The focus of dialog marketing, on the other hand, is on communication channels that include a response mechanism that brings the consumer into the loop. This can be a call back to a hotline, an answer via e-mail, SMS or a comment on a Facebook post. An analysis of the responses enables a direct control of the success of the marketing measure. Live chats and support forums also belong to the contributing forms that make up the dialogue. Companies are now spending about half of their advertising budget on dialogue media.
(**) What is sensory consumer research?
Sensory consumer research uses scientific methods to investigate how well people like a particular product and what implicit associations it triggers. What is the special thing about the product? In contrast to pure consumer research, it consciously involves the senses, such as the sense of smell and taste. This requires special methods. Modern sensory consumer research also uses so-called implicit methods. This means that even unconscious reactions to a product are measured. The results provide a more comprehensive picture which can then help to predict which product or product variant will be more successful in sales. Sensory consumer research is not only used for new product development, but also for recipe changes for existing products. Currently, it plays an important role in making food products healthier without loss of taste, for example, through the reduction of sweeteners or salt.
Photos (from top to bottom):
waffle: Mae Mu - unsplash
dialog: Volodymyr Hryshenko - unsplash
text: Alexsandar Pasaric - unsplash
banana: Manuel Toro - unsplash
Dr. Fabienne Hübener is a freelance science journalist specializing in the senses and sensory research. She has been writing for us since 2017 and also likes to accompany our team with the video camera in the lab and at conferences.