In our clients' shoes: MMR's Sensory Branding Challenge

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May 08, 2017

by Georgina Pegram


As sensory brand, pack and product partners, we work with clients to really bring consumers into the development process – whether for NPD or renovation. For an offer to truly succeed in market, the brand, pack and product must work together holistically – it’s something that goes beyond a traditional liking measure. It is therefore essential that key brand equities are perfectly aligned across all touchpoints. 

We call this sensory branding.

Our aim as a research partner is to aid decision-making that allows FMCG companies to develop winning ideas, working at the intersection of brand, pack and product – our heartland. Although we are highly experienced in providing insight to guide this journey, we knew that the best way to truly recognize the benefits, challenges and obstacles of product innovation through sensory led consumer research would be to put ourselves in our clients' shoes.

So, in April 2017 our UK teams were tasked to go ‘client-side’ in order for them to experience what it really means to develop a new product using sensory branding principles.

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The Challenge

For MMR’s Sensory Branding Challenge, 9 teams were drawn from every discipline around the business – insight, data processing, programming, operations, stats and HR. Each member was allocated a role; Consumer Insights, Marketing and Branding, Product/Packaging Development, Trade Sales and Finance. Half of the teams received a brief for a soft drink, whilst the other half were tasked with developing a new snacking product. The groups were provided with information on target demographics, occasions, emotional and functional equities and health/lifestyle attitudes, and were instructed to develop a brand positioning, product and pack to fit. They had MMR’s qualitative and quantitative toolkit at their disposal, and were also encouraged to make use of our sensory teams and panels. The biggest challenge – they had to do it all in a matter of weeks.

With a small budget allocated to each team to cover expenses such as ingredients, packaging materials and travel to food and drink events, the challenge required team members to take initiative and be resourceful.

One of the logistical challenges of the tight 2-week timeframe was the effective division of workload across different offices and schedules, as well as organizing meetings to communicate ideas. A recurring theme in team members’ feedback highlights the importance of communication and delegation, as issues arose when this was lacking. Whilst working across different departments and even geographical locations had its complications, it brought home the realities of real world product innovation and provided our team members with a greater awareness of the real limitations that organisations face in the bigger picture of their work with us.

Despite this challenge, the chance to work across different areas and with different people than usual has created quite a buzz here, driving appreciation and understanding of the different roles and relationships within the company. Recognising the diverse skills that team members bring to the table has been a valuable exercise as not only can we learn from each other, but we can take full advantage of this range of skills to maximise the impact of all our client deliverables. Coached throughout the process by MMR’s Global CEO Mat Lintern and UK Managing Director Judith Henderson, the teams demonstrated genuine enthusiasm,  professionalism and real creative flair.

Judging

The culmination of the challenge was an exhibition booth detailing the team’s journey from concept to final output and a 5 minute live pitch to a panel comprising Mat Lintern, Judith Henderson, and MMR clients Karen Poole (Paddy’s Bathroom), Aileen Bentall (Ferrero) and Jake Schneider (Pladis).

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Although an important means of depicting the story (and a chance to give out tasty nibbles!), it was emphasised from the outset that the winning team would deliver on the principles of sensory branding - whereby brand equities are physically embedded as sensory attributes across product and pack.

The judging panel were thoroughly impressed and deemed all the ideas to have commercial potential.

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I most enjoyed working with different people across the business

Lesley Potter

Global Operations Manager


The teams that really stood out, both in the opinions of the judging panel and a ballot box vote, were those whose ideas were not only distinctive but had clearly understood the consumer need, finding an ownable ‘space’ with a compelling proposition that had both purpose and meaning.

This was certainly evident in the winning team, who fulfilled all judging panel criteria with solid grounding, great execution, clear trade story (particularly leveraging contemporary trends), effective teamwork and compelling delivery.


There are a lot of resources within MMR including tools and the great people who work here. We need to utilize everyone’s skills to maximize our projects and output to clients

Nia Turner

Research Executive



I like that everyone owned the part they had to play – I think we made great use of everyone’s strengths

Victor Beek

Data Scientist


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Key Learnings

Aside from highlighting the importance of teamwork and communication, the challenge has left us with several take-outs which will undoubtedly benefit the way we approach and view our project work and client communications.

Put simply, creating a winning product idea is not easy.

It’s an iterative process, with elements adapted and refined after research and feedback, which can often be frustrating. To create a successful product, all sensory elements must align, which is not as straightforward as it seems. Now that we have tried this for ourselves, we believe that we are even better placed to help our clients realize the potential of effective sensory branding in driving NPD success.


Key Learning: The sheer amount of knowledge, creativity and enthusiasm there is at MMR – it was incredible!

Emilie Ayres

Sensory Research Executive


Seeing the concepts evolve and nurturing them into the team’s own brand inevitably created a sense of personal attachment, described by team members as a conflicting feeling. Although it did inspire enthusiasm and dedication to product development and brand promise, negative findings were taken harder and more personally than anticipated. In this way, increased sensitivity to the challenges that face our clients will allow us to empathize with, and be responsive to, their constraints - ultimately fostering a stronger relationship and superior services.

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On behalf of everyone at MMR, a massive thank you and congratulations goes out to each and every person who go stuck in. The buzz on the day was electric, and everyone was impressed by the sheer amount of work that had been put into the concepts, booths and pitches, despite the very tight timeframe. They all had the potential to be winning products, and the judges faced extremely tough deliberation. We look forward to similar company training events in the future, which will continue to reveal the exceptional talent and creativity of the people who work at MMR.

We've got a number of takeouts from our Sensory Branding Challenge - find out more as we get them online...